The Nice Thing About Strangers

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

Seatmate

On the train from Novi Sad to Budapest, a woman parks herself right next to me, though half of the train is empty. Perhaps she wants a guaranteed seat next to a female. Perhaps I look friendly without really trying–this is my usual state in repose.  She tries to speak to me in several languages before we get to German, where we find some common ground. Still, it was as though someone had taken a German dictionary and tore it in half–giving her the first part and me only the second. There was very little overlap. We never make much conversational progress.

Her husband or boyfriend begins sending her text messages every ten minutes. She reads them and presses the phone to her chest in joy. Then she would show the phone to me, “Shau mal.” Look.  “Deutsch Deutsch, lese lese.” As though I could read it, since she said it was written in German.

No, it wasn’t written in German. It was Serbian, perhaps Hungarian, or a language with a lot of Js and accent marks. I said I couldn’t read it, and she assured me that I could. So like a toddler, I would pretend, “Oh, how nice that is!” Then she would ask me what it said, and call me out for lying. I would shrug, she would insist. Men in the seats around us scoffed. Well, regardless, it passed the time until her man friend mercifully ran out of things to say.

–Novi Sad to Budapest.

Serbian train, train travel

32 comments on “Seatmate

  1. John
    December 13, 2013

    Wow, what a creep.

    • thenicethingaboutstrangers
      December 13, 2013

      Haha! She wasn’t so bad, in the scheme of things. Maybe we lost a lot in our pathetic translations. 🙂
      Paige

  2. sedge808
    December 13, 2013

    Fab story.

  3. evelyneholingue
    December 13, 2013

    Funny things happen when we are lost in translation. Thanks for sharing.

    • thenicethingaboutstrangers
      December 14, 2013

      Thanks, Evelyn. I agree. This is part of the joy of going away, I think. Finding new ways to try and be understood can be very valuable! 🙂
      Paige

  4. hughcurtler
    December 13, 2013

    Delightful anecdote!

  5. Dr_IQ
    December 13, 2013

    I once met a Chinese at Dubai airport. He says, ‘Welcome to Beijing’ as it was the only sentence in English he could speak.

    • thenicethingaboutstrangers
      December 14, 2013

      🙂 Awesome! I love that! When i think of my early days in other languages, I know I said many odd things.
      When I was in a shop in Turkey, the man asked if I wanted a sack for what I’d purchased and I said yes, then walked away before he could fetch it. By the time I hit the door, I understood his question, so I learned not to say “yes,” until I was sure I understood.
      🙂
      Paige

  6. Eda
    December 14, 2013

    Two women walked up to me at the airport, gesturing and babbling something I didn’t understand, then one of them waved her boarding pass in my face. I checked the number and pointed in the direction of the gate. They didn’t say thank you…or at least I don’t think they did.

    • thenicethingaboutstrangers
      December 14, 2013

      Eda:
      Nonetheless, what a good ambassador you were. 🙂 I usually try to learn at least, please, thank you, and I’m sorry when I go somewhere. I seem to use “I’m sorry” quite a lot!
      Paige

  7. suej
    December 14, 2013

    Hmm….she wanted to show off her boyfriend. She was alone on the train, but she wasn’t alone, see! 🙂

    • thenicethingaboutstrangers
      December 14, 2013

      Sue, what a great take on it! We do so often want to prove that we’re loved. 🙂 I like that!
      Paige

      • suej
        December 14, 2013

        🙂

  8. Al
    December 14, 2013

    Funny story….but frustrating.

    It reminded me of a time (in the mid-60’s) when I was in the Mediterranean with the U.S. Navy. I took leave to go up to Germany to visit my brother who was in school there. We took a train over to Austria and I had no passport…just a military ID. When the conductor threatened to throw me off the train my brother interceded explaining in German that I was with the Armed Forces….no passport needed. I spoke zero German and the conductor spoke no English, so my brother really saved the day for me.

    • thenicethingaboutstrangers
      December 14, 2013

      I’m glad that he could intervene!
      I feel fortunate that thought I was often terrified to use a foreign language, I’ve had some great encounters when I was humbled and just went for it. 🙂 When in doubt, a humbled smile seemed to help, though it didn’t always charm everyone. Heh.
      Paige

  9. Eva Taylor
    December 14, 2013

    Hope you enjoy your time in Budapest. It’s a beautiful city. Most Hungarian’s under 50 speak a little English nowadays, you shouldn’t have a problem.

    • thenicethingaboutstrangers
      December 14, 2013

      Eva, I ADORE Budapest! 🙂 When I first moved to Europe I was there at least one weekend a month.
      Paige

  10. My motto is no eye contact LOL and always something to read! (PS love your layout)

    • thenicethingaboutstrangers
      December 16, 2013

      🙂 I also try to avoid eye contact, but it isn’t always easy for me. Even the ipod doesn’t always seem an effective deterrent.
      Thanks! I am getting used to the layout. I like that it’s easy to see more stories at once, more titles, more pictures, but there are a few little bits that drive me batty. Alas!
      Nice you see you!

  11. Darlene
    December 14, 2013

    I love this story. How sweet that she wanted to show you she had a boyfriend. It is amazing how we can communicate even though we don’t speak a common language.

    • thenicethingaboutstrangers
      December 15, 2013

      I agree, Darlene. 🙂 I was glad to be included, but a little thrown when she insisted I should understand everything. I wonder if it was on Serbian candid camera? 🙂
      Have a nice weekend,
      Paige

  12. Nia Simone
    December 17, 2013

    Hi Paige,

    What an odd experience! I love this post, your whole attitude is so positive.

    I’m nominating you for The Sunshine Award today to thank you for bringing sunshine into my life.

    Thanks for being you!

    Nia

    • thenicethingaboutstrangers
      December 17, 2013

      Thank you, Nia! Once I started looking for positive things, I found they became suddenly available to me. When I focus on the negative, I find that too, but it’s less productive. 🙂
      I’m honored, Nia. Thank you so much!
      Paige

      • Nia Simone
        December 17, 2013

        You’re welcome!

        I have the same experience. I try to focus on the positive and when I do I get more positive.

  13. Pingback: Sunshine Award, and some sunshine from Southern California | Nia Simone, Author

  14. Jonathan Caswell
    December 18, 2013

    Reblogged this on By the Mighty Mumford and commented:
    “ALL THE LONELY PEOPLE…WHERE DO THEY ALL COME FROM?” NICE TRAIN PICTURE, TOO.

  15. Jonathan Caswell
    December 18, 2013

    Unfortunately I know where you’re coming from. for the last ten years of my Dad’s life he suffered several strokes and would get frustrated with me for appearing to, but not always, understanding him. He caught me innumerable times!

    • thenicethingaboutstrangers
      December 18, 2013

      I’m so sorry about your father, Jonathan. I’m sure that must have really been a struggle. I’m glad you were there for him nonetheless.
      Paige

  16. What a strange conversation! But as good a way as any to pass the time, and very friendly.

    We were once baffled on the trans-sib when our Russian cabin-mates said “toys” to us in Russian (using a Russian-English dictionary) and then we pulled up at a station where everyone was selling toys on the platform. That was kind of bizarre.

    • thenicethingaboutstrangers
      December 20, 2013

      Haha, that is bizarre. Were you in the market for any toys?
      There were many times when I would think someone said one thing, and I discovered they said something very different. This is part of the adventure, I suppose! 🙂
      Paige

  17. restlessjo
    December 28, 2013

    Yes, you do look kind of approachable 🙂 The nice thing about strangers! Best wishes for 2014!

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