Jetlagged, weary and still thinking a bit in Japanese having only been on English soil for all of an hour, I lumbered onto the tube, bags in hand and wishing I didn’t have to take the Circle line of all things. Immediately two enormous suitcases caught my eye. They had JAPAN in big letters plastered across them and sure enough on the seats surrounding these great hulking bags sat a rather sleepy, but mostly nervous looking Japanese family.
Half asleep myself, I spotted the only spare seat in the carriage that just happened to be next to this family. I wandered over, dodging other passengers, attempting not to jostle or knock anyone with my rucksack, and without thinking asked the nice family, “Is it ok?” and pointed at the seat.
Fine right? Nothing odd there, except, well… I asked in Japanese. In London. On the tube, where nobody speaks to strangers and certainly not in that stranger’s native tongue.
I got a nervous, “hai/yes” in response and so I slumped down into the seat. Of course that wouldn’t be the end of it though. I could see the family nervously glancing at one another, reflected in the opposite window, wondering whether to engage this utter stranger in conversation. This went on for a minute or two before I felt bad for getting them all in a kerfuffle and turned and asked them where they were going.
Pari, as the Japanese call Paris, was the destination. Followed by a variety of confused questions as to why an Englishman was speaking Japanese (however poorly).
After helping them successfully get off at the right stop, which conveniently also happened to be my stop, they quickly gathered the courage to ask me what they’d clearly wanted to ask me all along, “could I do them a favour?”
Here was their problem; they were staying with their daughter’s friend’s family in Paris. Their daughter’s friend speaks Japanese. However, they’d been unable to get in contact with her as they only had the home phone number. The family of said girl would in all likelihood pick up the home phone, the family that only spoke French and English.
I was immediately handed a mobile phone, already dialing. It rang and rang and I found myself thinking, “Why don’t you ever just not talk to strangers? Bloody plonker.” It rang a little more…
And nobody picked up.
We said our goodbyes, they thanked me for my efforts and waved me on my way as I went with a good friend to get my first taste of English ale for eleven months. Over that beer I began to wonder, how the hell had I managed to accidentally adopt a whole Japanese family?
Japanese politeness that’s how.
I should know better.
I just can’t stop chuckling to myself 🙂
I am Swiss-Canadian. And am living in Switzerland at the moment.
Well whenever I see Swiss people bumbling about in Canada, I feel obliged to help them. (Sometimes the help is needed, sometimes not)
But because of the small size of Switzerland, seeing Swiss tourists is a bit of a novelty and this weird bonding occurs. And voilà I feel responsible for the well-being of the family… Swiss Politeness is alike to Japanese Politeness somehow…
Thanks for sharing your story Julian, it’s nice to know I’m not the only one who gets caught up in such daftness.
I had to laugh at this story because my husband and I get into that here in the States too. Living in a southern state in America its a general rule of hospitality. While not everyone adheres to it (courtesy is unfortunately a dying attribute) it is still the general rule. We’ve been known to befriend total strangers and find ourselves some drinking partners for the night!
If I’m honest Kelly, it’s often that very hospitality I rely upon to stay sane when I travel alone. It’s also the reason I’ve met some very nice people out here, as well as on Amtrak when I travelled the US for a month a few years back. So please keep the tradition of hospitality going, at least until I manage my around the US trip again!