The French car pulled up beside us on the motorway, matching our speed. The woman in the passenger seat pointed at our back tyre and made a gesture. We acknowledged her with a wave, then pulled into the next service station. Forty kilometres from the port of Dunquerke, and two hours away from departure, we had a flat tyre. Our situation was desperate. “We’re going to miss our boat!”
While my partner tried to find help in a busy service station, I proceeded to empty our luggage from the boot of the car. “There better be a spare tyre!” I cursed, while our personal items were scattered around the parking lot. There was!
I’ve only changed a car tyre once in my life. I was in the middle of the Australian outback with work colleagues when this opportunity arose. Unfortunately I didn’t pay enough attention to know what to do with the metal rod and the jack before me.
A man approached with a beer in his hand. He was of slight build, and didn’t stand much taller than my petite height of 5″2. In broken English, he offered to help. We asked anxiously, “how long will it take?”. In a thick Hungarian accent he replied, “ten minutes”.
In the Summer of 2006, we were hiking in the Italian Aosta valley. After a four hour trek up to 1350 metres, it was time to head back down. Ten minutes into the journey, my partner rolled her ankle and fell to the ground. A couple trekking not far behind us stopped to our aid, “we saw you fall, are you ok?” We were far from ok. The trail ahead of us was at least a three hour journey, and L was in pain. In another act of random kindness, one of the hikers offered us her hiking poles. We made the slow journey down the mountain on our own, without the need to be stretchered down or airlifted.
Acts of random kindness from strangers while travelling are special. They can define a moment, offer you comfort in times of need, and in our case, help you out of a less than ideal situation. On a Sunday afternoon, at a busy service station in France, it was the kindness of a Hungarian stranger that made all the difference.