There is an unfortunate side-effect to living in countries with an abundance of people hassling you on the street: you become very spiky and rude to people who come up and try to talk to you, for whatever reason. In Nigeria it was best to avoid speaking to strangers on the street, but then you don’t wander the streets much there anyway. Melbourne was a pain as it had more beggars, charity collectors, buskers, hawkers, and people otherwise looking to you for coin than any city I’ve been in recently. Plus I’d spent 6 months living in Phuket prior to moving to Nigeria, and there you quickly learn to harden up and brush them off. So nowadays when a stranger comes up to me in the street I tend to bark at them and keep walking, dismissing them outright with a wave of the hand without breaking step.
Unfortunately, sometimes people come up to me genuinely asking for directions. I encountered a Chinese chap in Melbourne who asked me for help in finding somewhere, and I just stomped past him rudely. Realising after a few yards that I’ve probably just behaved like an asshole, I went back to help him.
And so this morning I was on my way to work in La Defense, 5km west of Paris, when a middle-aged lady with a piece of paper in her hand which was probably a map said “Excuse moi, m’sieur” and I barged past rudely, saying (in English) that I’m in a hurry. She was pretty shocked and started apologising but by the time I realised that I’d just been a Grade One Asshole I was around the corner and it was too late. I felt pretty bad, and so when somebody else came up to me a few hundred yards later to ask me for directions to the Sofitel I was all sweetness and smiles. Partial redemption perhaps, but I still feel bad for barging past the first lady. Sorry, whoever you were.
I blame my past expatriations, but it’s something I perhaps need to work on.