by Ann Rickard
ONE of the nicest aspects of travel comes when you receive unexpected kindness, especially in countries where you do not expect to receive it.
We have all heard stories about rude waiters and bad-tempered people in Paris who, when approached with the usual tourist question "do you speak English?" will reply dismissively, "yes, do you speak French?"
But I have experienced kindness in Paris.
One such act, which sticks in my mind because it involves the purchase of wine, occurred on our last visit.
Jet-lagged and just checked-in to our small hotel, sans bar, we wanted wine and bed.
I volunteered to go to a small mini-market across the road, which I found to be not so small once inside and filled with about 1000 customers with overloaded trolleys.
So, with my two bottles of cheap Cote du Rhone, I gritted my teeth and joined a long queue. But the woman in front of me took pity and gave me her place in the line.
"Such kindness," I gushed at her. That made the person in front of her feel guilty and he too gave up his place, and then the one in front of him, and then again, until like toppling dominoes the kind Parisian shoppers fell aside to let me at the front with my cheap wine.
Back at the small hotel, it tasted like nectar from the gods imbued with all that kindness.
More kindness in France.
On a Sunday afternoon in the countryside and quite lost and almost out of petrol and cash, relief turned to dismay when we came across a service station only to find it closed.
Luckily you could still get fuel, but customers had to use machines to pay before they could pump.
We managed to jam our credit card in the machine and were suffering much anguish when a stranger at another bowser offered to put his own cash into our machine so we could at least get a quarter of a tank.
Kindness in the extreme, no?
Another time in Paris, just off a TGV at Gare de Lyon and having to transfer to a metro station with big suitcases, we met unkindness in the ticket office from a snotty woman who told us to go forth and work it out for ourselves at a machine and then to find our own way from the main station to the metro.
Outside the office and upset, a scruffy young woman hovered around us. The last thing we wanted was to be harassed by scruffy young people who you often find at big stations looking to take your money in cunning ways.
"Can I help you?" she said and I replied a curt, "No, leave us alone".
"But perhaps I can, I am a student living here," she said.
She took us to the machine, bought tickets for us, and then helped us through narrow turnstiles with our big cases and took us right to the correct platform at the metro.
We were so simultaneously ashamed and grateful, we offered her money, but she refused and raced off.
And no, we did not find our wallets missing afterwards. It had been an act of pure kindness.
There was kindness recently from clerks in a bureau of motoring in Italy. It had taken us three days to find this hidden bureau.
When we finally got there we realised we needed our passports to complete documentation that would give us purchase of a month-long parking ticket and save us hundreds of euros.
We had not thought to bring passports. I let out an exasperated expletive, which I'm too polite to write here. Fortunately, the clerks laughed.
I then asked them the Italian word for the expletive and after that amusing exchange we agreed we liked each other and they went to a lot of trouble with the computer to find out stuff they would not have had to if we'd brought our passports.
So, let's pay forward the kindness if we see tourists in distress in our country.
Read more of Ann's musings at annrickard.com