I have traveled quite a bit in the last few months. In June I was in Thailand about ten days, and I have been living in Germany since August. During this time, I have had the usual mix-ups that go with traveling—missing trains, wandering off in unforeseen circumstances, and just generally misplacing stuff. Generally people are pretty nice about these things. Indeed, I just met “met” my third really nice stranger in these travels, so I guess it is time to acknowledge them.
The first really nice person was a Thai woman on a small motorcycle after I decided to use a tourist map to walk from Chiang Mai University where I was staying, into town. I thought it would take about an hour, and that I could do it before it got really hot. But, I got the map sideways (or maybe backwards), and ended up walking off in a really wrong direction for about thirty minutes. I ended up between some rice fields, construction sites, and noodle stands before finally acknowledging my mistake to myself, and starting to walk back.
I must have looked pretty odd along this hot stretch of road, because the woman on the motorcycle stopped to ask where I could possible be going. She was about 27, and had her three year old son with her. I told her, and she indicated that my destination was a long long ways away—and described the route I needed to take. I groaned inwardly. She did a really nice thing though, and asked me if I wanted a ride. SURE, I did! And so I piled on the back of the motorcycle made for three, and ended up back where I had intended to go in about five minutes.
My 16 year old daughter found the second really nice person the usual way. She left her purse with about $200 in dollars and euros, as well as her California driver’s license on a bench near a the local castle here in Friedrichshafen. We assumed that we would never see the purse or money again. But our new neighbors convinced us that it was indeed reasonable to file a police report. So we did, and the following day, the police called to report that the wallet had been found. The purse was returned with all the money, i.d., and so forth.
We found our third last really nice stranger yesterday when my cousin, who was visiting from Berlin, left her cell phone on a train. We had gone to a one of these really nice cute German towns for the afternoon, but by the time we reached there, her cell phone was gone. Groan….But when we got home, my cousin went to check her email. Someone found her phone, checked the entry for “home” in her address book, and had called her flat in Berlin. Her roommates emailed her the phone number of the person who found the cellphone who we immediately called, even though it was 10 p.m. Today my cousin is meeting the third really nice person at the ferry to pick up the phone before flying back to Berlin.
I am sure that there is a moral, or at least an anthropological insight to all this, but I don’t know what it is. Except maybe the point is that there are some really nice people in the world. Also, it is sometimes nice to accept rides from strangers, always check the lost and found for missing items, and you should always have “home” programmed into your cell phone.
And if you ever find someone’s phone, use it to call home—someone will really appreciate it!
Tony Waters is czar and editor of Ethnography.com. He came to us from the Sociology department at California State University at Chico where he has been a professor since 1996. In 2016 though he suddenly found himself with a new gig at Payap University in northern Thailand where he is on the faculty of the Peace Studies Department. He has also been a guest professor in Germany, and Tanzania. In the past, his main interests have been international development and refugees in Thailand, Tanzania, and California. This reflects a former career in the Peace Corps (Thailand), and refugee camps (Thailand and Tanzania). His books include: Crime and Immigrant Youth (1999), Bureaucratizing the Good Samaritan (2001), The Persistence of Subsistence Agriculture: Life Beneath of the Marketplace (2007), When Killing is a Crime (2007), and Schooling, Bureaucracy, and Childhood: Bureaucratizing the Child (2012). His hobby is trying to learn strange languages–and the mistakes that that implies. Tony is a prolific academic, you can read more of his work at academia.edu.or purchase one (or more!) of his books from Amazon.com.