This post came about because I am a big Danny Wallace fan. I think he represents what I would have been like if I had been born male (feel free to use that to judge whether or not you’d like his work). One of the reasons I like him so much is that you get the feeling when reading his books that he writes them more for himself than for anyone else, and that publishing is a sort of by-product. I’m all for a bit of self-indulgence, no occasion necessary, and in a way that’s exactly what this blog is.
Anyway, here’s what Danny Wallace has to say about strangers in his book ‘Friends Like These’*:
‘I’m a firm believer in the kindness of strangers – in the fact that strangers really can be friends you haven’t met yet – and other things you might sometimes find on a bumper sticker. I relish the chance to meet new people, and I have found that wherever you go on this strange little earth of ours, you will generally find that they are good. But rightly or wrongly, sometimes you feel awkward. Sometimes you feel strange. You shouldn’t – there’s generally no reason to.’
Ok, it’s not exactly proverb-worthy, but I like the sentiment, and I do agree that strangers are sometimes just un-made friends (and let’s face it, if I don’t buy into it it’s going to be a pretty lonely year!) And, whilst I’m perhaps a little way off relishing meeting new people, being out here, it is getting easier every day. Besides, I am definitely a happier person for having met Carmello, the friendly, stereotypically bronzed and speedo-donning Italian man, who helped me rush my belongings to cover when a dip in the sea in the afternoon sunshine became a mad rush to safety in a tropical storm. He even offered me his phone number in case anyone tried to give me any trouble.**
Then there was Simone and his lovely friend whose name I can’t believe I’ve already forgotten, who I met in the queue to board the plane to Turin. They opened with the classic ‘Excuse me, but why are you here?’***, and we ended up having a great chat about all the places I ought to go while I’m in Italy. They were just returning from a holiday to Sicily: ‘We came here to eat’.
And although I could have done without meeting the slightly slimy Antonello, who told me I was ‘bella’ and that my Italian was ‘perfetto’ (blatant lying with the latter means that I can’t trust him with the former), without him I’d never have been able to practise the Italian for ‘No, sorry, I’m going now, bye!’
I suspect this is something that will never catch on back home. I do enjoy the odd chat with strangers in England, but it’s almost exclusively at overground train stations and with the over 60s – hardly a culture of openness. But maybe it’s something to work on. For every Antonello there’s a Carmello, and for every stranger I chat to there’s a chance to practice my Italian, learn a bit more about my surroundings, and hey, maybe even make some new friends.
*If you do decide to explore the opera of Danny Wallace, don’t start with that. Read Yes Man.
**I saw Carmello on the beach again today. He informed me assertively that it’s winter now, despite still sporting only his pink speedos.
***It is a constant source of surprise to Italians that I should find myself in this part of Italy. The general consensus seems to be that if you’re going South you might as well go the whole hog and head to Sicily. Will take the ferry to Messina and report back.