A couple at the oyster machine stood there for at least 5 minutes confused. As I queued, I watched them poke the screen and consult the posters next to the machines. The Stations staff were nowhere to be found and the majority of the people in line had the typical impatient commuters’ look of frustration on their face. As I finished my transaction, I stopped next to the couple and asked if they spoke English. A look of fear covered the older gentleman’s face as he recoiled and pushed the woman behind him. I sighed and took them back to the home screen then asked if any of the languages on the bottom bar looked familiar. The gentleman took my cue and looked at the screen then a smile lit up his face as he pointed to one of the languages. I pushed the screen for him and he began laughing and patting me on the shoulder as the lady looked on bewildered at the exchange. I gave him thumbs up then went on my way.
Although it wasn’t an everyday situation, it was one I had become accustomed to seeing. Multiple thoughts occurred to me as I went on my way. Firstly, did my appearance warrant that kind of reaction or is it just culture shock mixed with confusion? Secondly, I hoped they made it to wherever their destination was and finally am I a good host? In my own personal international travels, I would never fail to meet people who would point me in the right direction, give me restaurant recommendations and just provide a friendly chat, but I rarely did the same.
The streets of Central London are crammed full of tourists 365 days of the year. So much so, that growing up, it became easy to spot who was from where, Italian and Spanish tourists in their tight jeans, fancy colourful trainers and shiny bomber jacket, Chinese tourists in their anoraks with fanny packs/ bum bags and umbrellas hoisted and the oh-so fashionable Japanese tourists who always look so well put together. They became a blur; the thrill of interacting with different nationalities was lost long ago. And dodging tourists in Victoria, Oxford Circus and Camden became second nature to me; I could make my way from point A to B without looking up from my Metro newspaper in the morning. I noticed early on that a lot of tourists come with negative and hyperbole stereotypes of Black people. The recoil when I offered help or the grabbing of bags as I passed, put me off even further and added to my annoyance and disdain of tourists. The times I did make efforts to interact with foreigners was usually when they were friends of friends or family members. I never felt I missed out on the opportunity to gain a new friend as London has such a multicultural population and my close friends range from Colombian to Filipino; I could say “Hello” in Spanish and curse you in Tagalog.
I decided as an exercise in personal growth to embrace being a host. My wealth of knowledge about this city can be of great use and so why not share it? Sometimes it is simply turning the tube map the right way up or pointing people in the right direction. Other times you may end up with a new friend and a great experience. Ultimately, the goal is to be a good steward for my city and for myself. I may not always be bothered or have the time but every interaction may add to someone’s experience of my city and hopefully some good Karma when I’m on my next adventure.
This story was curated by Agnes.