For no obvious reason, today I found myself remembering my ride on the Transpennine Express back to Manchester Airport when I was on my way home from seeing my relatives in Yorkshire just before Easter.
The train had been packed (it almost always is), and since I did not feel like squeezing myself and my luggage in with either a family with small children or with a grumpy (and not very clean) looking man, I chose to sit on my little red suitcase (the very same one you can see here, a trusted travel companion) next to one of the doors so that I could look at the landscape outside, changing from the industrial to the suburban to the very rural and back.
As is quite common on trains in the UK, someone with a trolley came round to offer snacks and drinks. This time, it was an elderly man, probably in his late 50s or early 60s, rather on the large side; obviously having finished his round on the train, he parked his trolley by the door opposite of where I was sitting, and sent a friendly smile in my direction.
Almost everyone instinctively smiles back when being smiled at, unless one is either extremely bad-tempered or extremely cautious, and I am no exception.
The man saw that as an invitation for a little chat, and a short but pleasant conversation ensued.
Obviously, I sat where I sat because of the train being so full, and Mr. Trolley commented on that. I assured him that I didn't mind and was actually quite comfy there on my suitcase.
Earlier, I had eaten a sandwich (which I had not bought from him but at the station in Leeds, where I had had about 15 minutes between the train from Ripon and that to Manchester), and he offered to take the empty carton from me and put it into the rubbish bag he had attached to his trolley, something which I found rather kind of him, and said so.
He then moved to the question of my travelling, nodding in the direction of my suitcase - was I going on holiday?
In fact, no, I was going home. Where is "home", he asked now, to which I told him that I lived in Germany.
Mr. Trolley informed me that his brother used to live in Germany for years, being stationed there with some military division or other (don't ask me about such things - I have no idea of regiments and weaponry and ranks), and that him and the wife had been over a few times to see the brother, and liked it.
Basically, that was the gist of our conversation; at the next stop, the trolley man got off, and I was carried further on to Manchester Airport.
While I was thinking today about this totally unspectacular little incident, it struck me how so often, if only we let them, others are trying to find common ground with us. Person A states to be from a certain country, and immediately Person B has some kind or at least polite comment to make regarding said country. Or Person A is walking a particularly handsome dog, and by admiring the dog, Person B establishes contact with Person A - however briefly.
This habit of trying to find something friendly to say is, I suppose, universal; I imagine that even in cultures where strangers hardly speak to each other (especially not when they are of opposite sex) similar exchanges take place.
Not being an anthropologist or versed in social science and psychology, I take this the only way I can: as an effort of being nice, of making one's own day just a tad brighter by talking to someone, and not necessarily with a vested interest, but simply out of goodness and kindness.
Maybe I am naive in believing that there is at least some good in a great many people; maybe it is just a lucky coincidence that, from the odd unpleasant incident aside, so far in my life I have not had that many bad experiences with people.
No matter what is true (and I certainly do not claim to know), I just think life is easier if we, every now and then, are on common ground with someone else for a little while.