I’ve been in the UK for the last four days. It’s not my first visit, and I consider myself a pretty seasoned traveler. But there were numerous times when I realized that the knowledge I take for granted, the way I navigate streets or airports or even grocery stores, is completely dependent on being somewhere familiar.
I was taking a train one morning, and the first thing I needed to do was retrieve my tickets from the ticket machine. I found an open machine, followed the prompts, and got my tickets. Next, I looked for the announcement of what platform my train would come to. The platform number appeared, and people around me started moving.
Now I’ve got to use the ticket to get through the turnstile. I watch the people in front of me, not sure how it works. As I approach, I see a man lay his ticket against a sensor, and he gets through. My turn comes, and I lay my ticket against the sensor. Nothing happens.
I step out of the line to let the people behind me through. A nice man asks to see my ticket, then feeds it into the machine, and the gate opens. It seems like magic.
There were a hundred small examples like this, from where to get a taxi to how to order drinks and even how to line up at the coffee shop. The people who do this every day know the customs and the methods and the routines—I didn’t.
It’s nice to know how things work, to be able to move with ease through your day. It’s also a real gift to be thrust out of that knowledge, and to see how much you take for granted. The people around me extended so much grace and patience as I tried, often clumsily, to navigate their system. I’m going to look for opportunities to return the favor when I’m back on my own familiar ground, to people who may need that same grace and patience.
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