On my way back from America in January, when I got on the plane in Atlanta for the 9 hour overnight flight to London and sat down, something incredible happened to me which I will never forget.
Usually, right before I board, I check the available seats to see if there are any pairs left for the extra space and comfortable lack of an old guy with too much nostril hair falling asleep on you. I suffer from Fibromyalgia, so the less cramped I am the better or I hurt a LOT by the time the plane lands. This time, an economy comfort pair was available, and I saw another guy just move into one with no issues, so I thought, why not, eh? Nobody else is obviously going to sit there now, the plane was almost ready to take off.
So I went and settled myself into the two seats, tucked all my belongings away and cuddled up to my pillow and attempted to nap…
The pilot started his ‘Welcome to Delta Airlines..’ blathering over the intercom and at this point I put my headphones on and tried to listen to some relaxing music — I’m not good with flying.
A few minutes later, an air hostess gave me a hard nudge on my shoulder and demanded to ask if I had paid for the seat. I told her I hadn’t, but also innocently thought that as the seats weren’t taken so nobody was going to use them anyway. She told me I had to pay if I wanted to sit there, and demanded I move into my original seat until that seat was paid for. We were about to take off and my wallet was in my bag in the overhead compartment, she wouldn’t let me get it, so… you see my predicament, right? I asked if we could sort this out once the plane had taken off and the seat-belt sign was off, she stubbornly insisted I move. I swear some people just get so much enjoyment out of making things difficult for others. (Parking officers come to mind..)
I felt a little flustered and embarrassed to say the least. I didn’t think it mattered and it wasn’t hurting anyone else, and this woman was being extremely unreasonable; I was willing to pay for the upgrade but she wouldn’t even let me get my wallet so what was I supposed to do!
Then, an average looking guy in his mid 40's, maybe early 50's, sitting in the seat behind me, asked to speak to her.
“Ma’am, how much is the seat?” he questioned, in a friendly, southern drawl.
She looked somewhat surprised and considerably exasperated, and said “It’s one hundred and ten dollars. Why?”
Then, he said.. “Ahh, that’s alright, I’ll pay for it”, then took out his wallet and gave her his credit card.
Everyone within five or six seat radius was now focusing entirely on myself, this man and the air hostess.
I was completely taken aback by this. My absurd English manners took over (English people are so overly polite that if you broke into their house they would probably say “I’m terribly sorry, my front door appears to have gotten in your way. Would you like some tea?”) and I repeatedly told him I couldn’t possible allow him to do that, and he just continued to insist and said “I just want you to have a nice flight without being stressed and upset. You go on now and relax, I saw you wearing your Florida State University shirt and I have a lot of respect for that football team of theirs” all in his lovely, warm accent that English folk so often attribute to ignorance.
(It was my wife’s shirt by the way…she studies at FSU…but I was too embarrassed to say anything at this point!)
I was nearly in tears. Not because I could sit where I wanted, but because an absolute stranger had just offered to pay $110 for my seat like it was nothing at all. Just an ordinary guy with grey hair and a blue shirt. I don’t even remember what his face looked like. I just remember the kindness and selflessness he paid me that allowed me to have a very comfortable flight home. At the end of the flight he asked me if I had had a nice flight, and I told him that I had an amazing flight thanks to him, and shook his hand with both of mine.
Often when I talk to English people about how much I love America and the people who live there, I hear replies of “Oh but they’re all so fake. None of them are genuinely nice, they just want your money”, and “Americans are so dumb and ignorant”.
English people, by the way, are generally pretty up themselves and stand-offish. Something that is a result of hundreds of years worth of pride and arrogance after taking over a fuckload of other countries.
We think we are better than everyone else, and hypocritically and ironically, get really uppity and grumpy when ‘foreigners’ come to the UK. The racism in this country is like a papercut: subtle and quick, yet extremely painful, and doesn’t stop bleeding. It’s amazing how such a small cut can produce so much blood and pain.
My experience of Americans so far has been 95% positive (with the exception of the United States Postal Service clerks… and the occasional air hostess…). Generally, I find them polite, friendly, smiley, helpful, warm, and genuinely interested in who you are. Maybe it’s because I sound like I go to Hogwarts, but who knows… I can only speak of my own experiences.
My grey haired FSU fan though was just the cherry on the top of the cake for me. Never in my life had a complete stranger been so kind to me. Not only that, but it put everyone else in the cabin in a good mood. Money isn’t everything, kindness, compassion and having an open mind, is.
The beautiful thing about random acts of kindness, is that they create a butterfly effect. If someone is kind to you, whether they upgrade your flight for you, or lend you 30p when you’re short on bus fare, or even if they just smile and tell you you have nice eyes, whatever it is, you’ll find yourself more inclined to do nice things for others.
One last thing I’d like to add to this, is that on my way back from London the other weekend, I was with my friend, and we went through the barriers at our last train station, my ticket was of no use to me anymore, so I went to give it to someone about to buy one. It was a day ticket around most zones in London. I could have saved them around £8. My friend however, hurried me and told me not to bother, which made me feel embarrassed and silly. He is not one who likes drawing attention to himself, so for the sake of his comfort, I threw my ticket away, and honestly, I was angry at myself for doing so. I didn’t care about embarrassing myself. I think it’s shocking that wanting to show kindness to someone is seen as socially unacceptable. Well, it isn’t socially unacceptable in America, and so it makes me want to move there even more.
Next time, I WILL offer my ticket to someone else, I will give the person behind me in the queue at Tesco my coupon for £1 off my next shop, I will wait and hold doors open for people less able, I will hug people harder, smile more and I maybe one day I will upgrade someone’s seat for them.
Be thoughtful, be kind. You never know, you telling someone that their hair looks nice that day might save their life. Think about that. Kindness costs nothing.
Kindness begins with you.