The Nice Thing About Strangers

Creative Non-Fiction Short Stories. :) Travel, Oldsters, Love, and Compassion.


In Vienna, I terrify a little boy who offers me his seat in the bus. He has a yin yang patch and an American flag patch affixed his backpack. This makes me smile. When I ask if he does Taekwondo, he thinks I want his bag. Then he seems to think I want the soda in his coat pocket. He tries to offer me whatever he has, as though this is a rather civilized afternoon mugging.

Finally, I reach toward the patch to clarify and he flinches. He yelps, “I don’t speak…”

“Oh,” I laugh a bit and apologize. I ask in German if he can speak German.

“No!” Since he answers in English I pause, wanting to mend things. Yet when the bus stops, he sprints to the exit. On the sidewalk, he loiters near the stop, hoping to catch the next bus that travels the same route.  I realize that I drove him out, and this was my fault– trying to befriend the whole city.  Maybe like a good and obedient child he meant no, actually, I don’t speak to strangers.

–Vienna, Austria

Germany, children's drawings

14 comments on “Self-Defense

  1. This is the way the world is. So sad. A little boy doesn’t know how to tell the difference between good and bad. All people are potentially bad.

    • Well, probably, it was good parenting that tells him to be wary. Nonetheless, I keep forgetting it’s not only my movie! 😀

  2. Bridgesburning Chris King
    April 24, 2013

    Ah I wish he had been able to understand your intention. Maybe some day when he thinks of it he will understand.

  3. Maccabros
    April 24, 2013

    after a few words, we are not strangers anymore – in a lttle way…:)


  4. joannerambling
    April 25, 2013

    How sad that a child is so scared that he can’t even feel safe speaking to a stranger even when the stranger means no harm………

    • I was tempted to follow him singing Do-Re-Mi from the Sound of Music, but a.) most Austrians have never even seen that movie, and b.) I didn’t want the Polizei to be called. And c.) I didn’t really understand why he ran away until a few stops later, then I burst out laughing!

  5. Eda
    April 25, 2013

    Don’t take it so personally. I have given up trying to talk to Japanese kids. They’re mostly afraid of everything.

  6. Mandy Kunzman
    April 25, 2013

    Oh my….i must not be raising my kids right…….Cohen would’ve crawled up on your lap regardless of any language barrier even though i am certain his sister would’ve been keeping a very wary eye on him. . . .Nebraska children still are afforded some luxuries that others are not it would seem.

    • 🙂 Agreed! I would love to run into them.
      Maybe it was a language thing too? Random stranger speaking English and looking friendly in a bus full of grumpy commuters? Perhaps he thought I was delusional!
      Thanks for coming to the blog, Mandy!

  7. Catholic Glasses
    April 26, 2013

    I talk to strangers all the time, on the bus, twitter and WordPress. I guess we all are, doing so more these days.

  8. Paul J. Stam
    April 26, 2013

    Trying to start up a conversation sometimes just doesn’t work out. Anyway, glad you liked “River Congo – Chapter 3” on Writing I Am.

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This entry was posted on April 24, 2013 by in Blogging, Europe, Happiness, Inspiration, Travel, Writing.

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