Someone once told me I was too cynical about the world, that I saw bad people and the bad in people everywhere. With all the stuff we see in the news today, how can I not? Of course it’s not my intention to incriminate every stranger I see. I just find it hard to believe that anyone would be nice to you just 'cause, without expecting anything in return or worse, without trying to scam you. As a frequent traveller, I am used to being too prudent and holding my belongings a bit too close to my body lest they get snatched or stolen. I am so used to questioning the intention of every stranger who comes to talk to me and expecting them to want spare change, and I am so used to judging people by the way they dress or talk or walk, that I just can’t seem to enjoy pointless conversation with random people in the street anymore.
My sense of independence makes things worse. I am the biggest control freak and my trust issues make it hard for me to depend on anyone. As a kid, I was accustomed to broken promises and I was no stranger to being disappointed, so much so that I told myself that when I grew up, I had to do everything myself in order to avoid disappointment. Unable to rely on people, it gets hard for me to make new friends or to just take people’s words for anything - double checking is my second nature.
So yesterday when I arrived in Stade, Germany for my summer internship, I had everything meticulously planned. I had an appointment with my potential landlord and I knew exactly which bus I was going to take and at what time. Everything went pretty well. The house was clean and fully furnished, and the rent is cheap. The place is also a daycare centre by day, so it’s full of kids when I arrived. In a small northern German town full of blond, blue eyed people, I stand out like a sore thumb and children look at me as if they’ve never seen a brown Asian guy before. Some kids came up to me and asked me if I spoke German. Some others just looked at me silently and followed my every step with the corner of their eyes. Some told me stories about their holiday plans, and some others asked me to play football with them. I forgot how adorable kids can be. My landlord told them I could also speak French, so they were pretty excited about that and asked me if I could teach them during their summer break.
That was the moment I told myself, “Well, strangers aren’t that bad.”
On the way back from the house to the train station, a German lady started talking to me in the bus. She wondered why I chose Stade out of all the places in Germany. I told her I didn’t, Stade chose me. This is where all the heavyweights in the aerospace industry decided to set up camp, so it’s not like I had a choice. I told her I was waiting for a positive response from my landlord and that I was going to spend the night at a youth hostel. She looked at me and said, “That hostel is going to cost you 30 euros! I have a comfortable couch at home and you can sleep there tonight.”
I was very skeptical. I was a foreigner, we didn’t know each other at all, and she was a frail middle-aged woman so she couldn’t possibly defend herself if I ever decided to do her harm. I would never invite a stranger into my home, so I can’t imagine why a stranger would invite me to theirs. Of course, I have this angelic face people just fall in love with, but that doesn’t guarantee I won’t pin her down to the floor, strangle her and steal all her jewelry.
I hesitated to accept the offer. My suspicious nature told me to politely decline. The problem is, I am independent but I am also a cheapskate freeloader. Why would I pay 30 euros if I can sleep comfortably and have a nice home-cooked dinner for free? Even if she had bad intentions, looking at her small stature, I was certain I could take her down with my pinky finger. So I said yes.
And that was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. She turned out to be extremely nice. She made me veggie noodles and carrot spring rolls for dinner. She also gave me a bag of chips while she was cooking in case I felt hungry. We ate cherries she just plucked from her friend’s garden, and she let me use her internet. She was just being this all around nice person I had never met before and that shook me to the core. I grew up convinced that there are no genuinely nice people out there anymore, and now I have this very friendly, nice German lady who gave me food and a roof to sleep under without expecting anything in return. She also called all her friends to ask them if they had any extra room in their houses, in case I didn’t get the room at the daycare centre. She left for work at 7 this morning, and she already prepared me breakfast consisting of bread, cheese, milk and apple juice.
Now I’m in the train, on the way to Hannover to see some friends, but I’m still baffled by the niceness of this lady. I used to hate people. Now I see that there’s no reason to be skeptical about everything and everyone, because we can be pleasantly surprised at how nice strangers can be. As independent as I thought I had to be, my whole belief system just got shaken by this surreal Blanche DuBois moment I just had – we all need to depend on the kindness of strangers sometimes.