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Making friends in new places

I am convinced the way to experience local culture in a foreign place is to arrive with a problem. Example: husband with a sports jacket with too-long sleeves. A last minute trip necessity. Problem: need of a tailor. Solution: ask your local waiter. This of course leads to marking up a map and setting forth with advice like watch for the sign with scissors. Thus the quest begins; not quite Odysseus but almost as important. We met the most charming, perhaps eighty something, Greek-only speaking speaking tailor, in his little shop. A female customer in the dressing room stuck her head out and translated. Domani, I said? My only Greek word, from some old movie song, came to the forefront. Measured up and redressed we took our leave. A short while later we returned with a packet of fresh-roasted pistachios for the sweet man, after learning from the nut/coffee shop man up the street they were his favorite. The tailor beamed. It's the small stuff somedays that make the adventure worth doing.

Posted by
5260 posts

Thanks for sharing this lovely experience!

Where in Greece was this?

Posted by
14 posts

In Athens, Greece, fairly near the Acropolis Metro stop. And subsequently I have realized that Domani is Italian...sigh.

Posted by
11613 posts

Great story! You are absolutely right about a problem opening doors.

My favorite example: in Siracusa, I requested gluten-free breakfast when I reserved the room. The manager, who also has a gluten-sensitivity, brought me gluten-free snacks and even a gluten-free slice of pizza for breakfast. Because she went so far beyond her job, I bought her a small white orchid plant. Turned out it was her birthday that day. On checkout, she gave me a tiny ceramic figurine from her hometown. We still correspond, and I will be staying at that hotel again in 2017.

Posted by
5260 posts

I forgot to add my favorite example...
When my mom & I were in Northern Italy, I asked a group of young teen girls for directions to the train station (didn't have a map). The young girls gave us directions but promptly told us that they would walk with us & show us! We enjoyed talking to them in Spanish since they were studying it in school. It was such a kind gesture & it made our day!

Posted by
8630 posts

I remember reading an article several years ago (sorry can't reference) in which the author described her experience in France. She said that starting any question with (pardon my French) "J'ai une probleme" - I have a problem - even when asking directions, were the magic words in getting assistance and advice from anyone. Her conclusion was that the French in particular were keen on being asked to solve a problem for you, rather than being treated as a service. May be true everywhere.

Posted by
27407 posts

That's interesting, Stan. I was just thinking about my experience in a small budget hotel in Santander, Spain. Its reviews included multiple negative comments about unfriendly desk staff, but I booked late and the price and location were good, so I took a chance. The desk fellow was indeed not warm and fuzzy when I arrived.

I didn't need a credit card to check in, so it was later that day when I discovered my credit card was not in my wallet. I knew it hadn't been stolen, and decided that I had probably left the card in a bus ticket-vending machine in Bilbao. I found telephone numbers for the bus company and the bus station online but couldn't make the calls myself because I had no European SIM in my phone (my language skills aren't up to telephone conversations).

Nothing to do but throw myself on the mercy of the guy at the desk. I clearly remember starting that conversation with "Tengo un problema." And you know what, he was extremely helpful, making multiple phone calls involving long hold periods, at no cost to me. The missing credit card couldn't be found, but I have positive memories of that self-caused problem because of the helpfulness of the fellow at the desk.

I think you're right that people--especially in very touristy cities--are more likely to spend time helping you if you don't act as if they owe it to you. I make it a point to return the favor (in a way) by helping lost souls I encounter here in Washington DC.