It’s simple really. Just SMILE.
So I've traveled a lot alone and over the years I've realized the trick is to smile at strangers to get your way. Smile when you ask for directions. Smile when you ask for advice. Smile when you ask for the best snacks to have with your beer or for that matter which beer you should you have. (We are not that spoilt for choice here though I swear by Kingfisher).
The first time I traveled alone abroad, I was petrified. I knew nothing, I had no idea how I would find my way out of the maze I imagined most cities outside India would be (more than Indian cities? I was a very scared and obviously foolish kid!). Gradually I realized, all I needed to do in most places, with most people, in most situations was just to flash a ‘I am so silly, can you help me’ smile. (Alright, I know what you are thinking. I'm sure men have another version of this)
In most cases, it works. (Except maybe with that waiter in Paris, but you know what they say…).
This one time at a Paris Museum, I was so besotted with the display inside, I forgot to you know ‘go’ before the museum closed. And when it finally did, gates and all and I was stranded outside, and you know, I really needed to ‘go’.
I saw this old doddering guard locking the gates and I walked to him hesitant. “Please monsieur, can I use the toilets inside?”
“It is closed now.” He said shaking his head.
“But please. Where do I go?” I gesticulated at the empty road and gave him a wan smile.
He shook his head, but I wouldn't budge. He was a tall guy, almost sixty I think, blotchy stern face. The dark blue uniform made him seem sterner.
“Please monsieur?” I asked again. Smiled pretty and bright.
And this time I did such a good job of it that he relented, letting me in, standing guard outside. After I’d walked out and thanked him, he asked me if I had tried the Crepiere nearby.
“It is a good place, for nice young ladies like you.”
He smiled and showed me the way. I had some delicious chocolate crepes and coffee.
So you see? A smile can get you by in the oddest of places.
More smile stories coming up...