Saturday, July 30, 2011

Quick Summary

So last week I did the following:

  • I greeted 
  • Held the door open for a mother and child
  • Discussed the vacation plans of my dry cleaner's who was having a boring, slow day
  • I smiled - got a wink from a father while his wife was walking next to him (guys, don't do that, it's offputting and not nice to your lady; she's the pearl in your life, especially when she's right there next to you. If you need more info on that, by all means, drop me an email and I'll try to explain it to you)
  • Offered a handkerchief to a crying woman
  • Wiped the sink in a public bathroom for the person after me; I personally hate the sight of messy sinks
Normally I would not have greeted in a lot of cases. I smile often at people, so that was nothing new. But I would not have talked to my dry cleaner's as I am usually a bit on the shy side, I would not have offered that hanky for the same reason and I would not have wiped that sink if I hadn't come up with this blog. 

So those are small improvements. Small, but nonetheless improvements. 

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The CouchSurfing Project

One of the most rewarding and fun ways to be kind to a stranger that I know of is CouchSurfing.
This is an online project that has been around since 2003 and I'm surprised how often I have to explain what it is. It's been picked up by different kinds of media around the world, and there are almost 3 million users; hardly an underground group.

Personally I love to host and prefer it to actually surfing, as I don't really like to stay in other people's houses. Showing the city that I'm proud of is one of the most wonderful things to do and I try to make people feel at home, both in my house and in my town. Right now, unfortunately, I can't host all that much as my boyfriend's not a CouchSurfer, but I still show people around, once every so often.

I can't stress enough how much fun it is to make someone feel at home in a foreign country, to show them the non touristic route, to be their company away from home, to talk for hours and especially to see your city through brand new eyes. It always amazes me how easy it is to share the most private stories with strangers and how much you can learn from one another.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Here's not looking at you, kid

Acting nuts is normal, acting normal is nuts.

That's what I felt today, anyway. This morning I said 'hi' again, and basically I think the result will be the same each and every time, no matter where or how you say it to people you see on a daily basis, but never talk to. Most of them are too startled to react to this simple word at all. People either pretend to not have heard you, or they mumble 'hello' while looking at the floor, the toes of their shoes, but not, no, anything but while looking at you.

But whatever their reaction - or non reactions - they exposed themselves by acting differently as soon as the bus arrived. All of them insisted I'd enter first. Seriously.

- 'After you'
- 'No, really, thank you'
- 'Please, I insist'
- 'Oh, no, I insist, please'

Insert hand and arm gestures where appropriate.

Apparently they all did notice my greeting and came to the conclusion that I was nice.
Nice enough to be the first one to enter.
Or maybe they were embarrassed by not or barely answering earlier.
I enjoyed getting on more than ever, I have to say.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Tomorrow is another day

Well, that didn't exactly turn out as I had planned. The first guy who I said 'hi' topretended to not have heard it and sat down next to me to read the Metro. The second guy didn't even look in our direction and on the way back I was picked up by my boyfriend to go out for dinner, so I didn't get anywhere near my usual suspects.

I did get to give a hanky to a young woman who was bawling her eyes out during lunch time.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Neighbours

"Goodmorning, ma'am. Are you OK with me offering you a bouquet of flowers?' I overheard my next door neighbour ask my upstairs neigbour. After a short silence he explained: 'Someone gave me this beautiful bouquet, but I'm going to be on a trip for over a week, so I would like you to have it. Would you mind if I gave it to you? ' My upstairs neighbour shrugged. 'Sure. OK.' And that was it.

This is only the fifth blog entry and this afternoon I already found myself thinking: 'O dear, what have I started.' Not the being friendly part, but the blogging part. What if what happened to my neighbour happened to me? Am I even the right person to write about kindness? I am very demanding, and expect people to be enthusiastic when I'm nice. I'd sulk or get impatient if they weren't. Had I been my next door neighbour I'd be moping how I'd better have asked someone else, someone who actually appreciated this very nice gesture of mine. Someone who saw the value of neighbourliness etc. etc. Would I still feel like writing about kindness to strangers if I got reactions like this time after time?

Luckily I know myself pretty well so I saw this 'what have I started' phase coming from a mile away, so yesterday I wrote down a list of topics I could touch. I read a lot about random acts of kindness last weekend and was pretty surprised about how many lights are shed on this topic. I raised an eyebrow when I read it is actually a trend, because what that really means is that being kind is now trendy in the marketing world. I found a lot of touching stories of people online and some blog entries and articles with tips and summaries of the benefits of being kind.

So, here I'll tell myself to get on with it, already.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Random Acts of Kindness

After I came up with the idea for this project last weekend, I started to think about the last time I did a random act of kindness. Just that day I had smiled broadly at a woman who looked a bit down, which made her light up, and I helped 3 toads cross the road (trust me, other species count, too).

But I also noticed something funny: people were nice. And by that I mean: they were nicer than usual. It was almost as if they knew I had this plan in mind. I was on the bus and didn't have bus fare, but the ticket machine on board was out of order. I told the driver and explained I didn't have any change on me, so I couldn't buy one from him either. As I headed for the door he said: 'Hey... Never mind. It's OK. Just sit down'. 

Later I was in line at a grocery store with nothing but a can of pop, and the person in front of me with loads of groceries let me cut the line. That hasn't happened to me in ages. On another day I brought my boots to the cobbler just to have the heels repaired and he actually fixed the toes of the boots - damaged by bad pavement - too, at no cost. 

Now, to pay all that forward puts a lot of pressure on me for the upcoming week. I'm already slightly nervous about upcoming Tuesday, when I have to greet the people at the busstop, as it's way out of our routine. But that's the whole point. Breaking that routine of shutting yourself off.

Lastly, I'd secretly like to thank blood donors for doing an incredibly good deed - someone I love just got good news from the hospital on Friday, thanks to you, anonymous strangers!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Tears dry on their own

I was in the middle of writing a post, when I heard Amy Winehouse died at the tender age of 27.
Though I was sure she wasn't going to live a long life, I was quite shocked and saddened - already affected by the events in Norway - and had to think of a note she wrote when she was 17 years old - 10 years before she died... 

I had heard of her, but it wasn't until 'Rehab' became a hit that I really got to know her music. As a singer from the 00ies, she stood out so much - no one seemed to have even half her talent. With her music she made lonely people feel like they had a bond, with her words she assured them they shared a sad experience or outlook on life, love and relationships... 

If only she had stuck to her plan to 'live her life like the bomb shell I really am' - how different her life would have been. Maybe that's today's message: be nice to people, but never, ever forget to be nice and especially never, ever be anything but good to yourself. Especially when you're as talented as Amy Winehouse.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Just saying 'hi'

The easiest way to be kind to a stranger is just saying 'hi'. I didn't just happen to write about a bus ride in my first post as just an example, I'm on a bus on a daily basis as I travel to and from work. And every time I get on I say 'hi' to the bus driver and when I get off I say thank you and wish the bus driver a nice day or evening.

As I said, that is, very, very easy. But why greet just the bus driver? Why won't I acknowledge the presence of all my fellow commuters? Some of them answer their calls politely and loud, so I know their first name. I even know that a young woman lives with a roommate whom she tells to buy certain groceries and I know how they both hate cleaning the apartment and are very happy on a not so regular basis to have 'finally cleaned the entire kitchen.'

I know one guy has a dog and lives in a fabulous apartment not too far from mine. Someone else was very dissapointed by a friend whom she ended a call with only after shouting she thought this friend was 'a very bad judge of character!' A blonde in a navy blue trenchcoat never, ever wears any other shoes but her black pumps with low heels. And I know one woman got pregnant and is now on mat leave. Or really she had ballooned and from one day to the next she wasn't on the bus anymore, so I came to the mat leave conclusion myself.

But we never speak. And that's OK. But we also never say 'hello'. And why not, for heaven's sake? I'm probably going to put more thinking into reasons behind the behaviour, but for now I will settle for starting to say 'hi' to my fellow straphangers. 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Reclaiming the Streets

It was one of those rainy autumn days in the Netherlands, one of those rainy days where there's no hiding from a drop as it is absolutely pouring down, all over your face, down your neck, if unlucky your shoes... And I saw this woman as only Dutch women can look in the rain; soaked and bent over her bike like a hunchback.

For a second, our eyes met. We recognized the miserable state we brought ourselves in. Thinking this horrible weather was a personal insult. I cracked up first. Then she broke into a big smile. The hunchback disappeared and got replaced by a self confident, happy -oh, the hell with it - type of blonde, who was going to take on that day from that moment on like there was no tomorrow.

That is what this blog is about.

About connection. With perfect strangers. About becoming that perfect stranger.


Because I had to go all the way back into the 90ies for this lovely memory.

Because I don't like the way we treat each other these days. Like we are not strangers, but instead, like Patrick Bateman, we are simply not there. Or rather The Others are simply not there. We ignore each other on the sidewalk. In our favourite cafe we slouch our hunchback over our cup of coffee and our iPhone or iPad. We are all alone on a bus so full of people that it takes tremendous effort to pretend not to notice each  other. We are not standing in line at the grocery store with other people and God forbid we'd say 'hi' to anyone on the elevator.

I'm starting this blog because I thought it is easy to be nice. Or is it? I want to prove it is. I am going to be nice in some shape, way or form to someone I don't or barely know on a daily basis for a year. And keep you posted. I'm also going to keep you posted on all the nice things strangers do for me or people around me. Because in all honesty, despite my little rant in the previous paragraph, lots of anonymous folks are changing the world by being friendly, helping or understanding. You're probably one of them, or you wouldn't be reading this. Let's reclaim the streets.