Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Kindness of Strangers

Rolf Potts recently posted on vagablogging  --  my favorite travel site on the web  --  this quote from Paul Theroux:

“Most travel, and certainly the rewarding kind, involves depending on the kindness of strangers, putting yourself into the hands of people you don’t know and trusting them with your life.”

My own experience conforms, but I worry about it as a general advice, as Theroux and I are both gentlemen of a particular age and sort, and what is true for us may not be so for others.  I think neither Paul nor I need be concerned that we might be carried off by white slavers.

With the fall of the Iron Curtain we are now learning that it was also holding in a lot of bad sorts who, having learned their trade under the bare-knuckled police regimes of the old Soviet Bloc are now delighted to find themselves in lush pastures policed by well-meaning liberals.  European regimes that can hardly deal with gypsy children now find themselves confronted by ruthless and well-financed Eastern European gangsters.

In most foreign countries that I would go to in the first place I would trust the natives more than my fellow travelers, for while the latter may be more familiar, they are not, as are the people who live there, subject to the same constraint of concern for their reputation. 

Years ago in an antique shop in Athens the proprietor saw that I was wearing a money belt and seemed to take offense at it: “You don’t need that in Greece,” he said.  I answered that I was not worried about the Greeks, but about my fellow travelers, which he found a more reasonable concern.

And I remember, of course, that horrible little person who stole Patrick Fermor’s notebook at a hostel in Munich and could have cost us one of the most wonderful travel books ever written.

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