December 11, 2023 | Rome, Italy

The kindness of strangers

By |2018-03-21T18:58:06+01:00November 22nd, 2013|Lifestyle Archive|
Out of nowhere, a car, an umbrella, an act of kindness.

t strikes me that all countries should have a literal “thanksgiving day.” Not just a commemorative day focused around a big meal of turkey and grits (whatever they are), but one in which people actually pause for a few minutes to give thanks.

I’m English, so I don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in any official way. But I can give thanks.

On that note, here’s my very own Thanksgiving for living in Italy, which while sometimes an irritating, exasperating and inhospitable country — particularly when it comes to earning a living — remains the place I’m grateful to call home.

Italy’s attractions are listed in countless brochures and websites: food, sunshine, mountains, and beaches. Domestic shortcomings notwithstanding, it’s still one of the most beautiful places on earth. In fact, its economy couldn’t survive without tourism.

But tourists rarely experience its deepest beauty — the kindness of strangers.

Since we settled on our farm nearly a decade ago I’ve seen countless examples of kindness, many of which have helped give difficult daily life a humane side.

So often it’s the little things:

People helping you load up your shopping when your baby is screaming, or fishing small children out of a fountain when you have your hands full. People taking the time to actually show you where you need to go after you’ve asked them directions and they sense you’re truly lost. People giving you small gifts of food and clothes or handing you a café after a long wait in some office; people ferrying you home when your car breaks down or helping you plow out of the snow.

Once, a group of us was out walking when we were suddenly caught in a heavy downpour. We took shelter under a tree. A passing car screeched to a halt, someone thrust an umbrella at us, and the car roared off — never to be seen again.

Recently, a guest who’d never visited us before got very lost and had phone trouble. He got to our local town without a clue what to do next. A local took him under his wing, escorting him to an osteria for a bowl of pasta while he got more information. He figured out our guest’s destination and rang us up.

For us Brits, this kind of friendly empathy contrasts starkly with stiff upper lip traditions (getting away from all that has led the British to flock happily southward for centuries). Even today, people in the UK too often view gestures of kindness with suspicion. For me, it’s icing on the panettone, and all the more reason to give thanks.

Our guest will probably never again see the man who helped him. But he’ll always remember the act of kindness. What goes around comes around. I still have the umbrella if somebody needs one.

About the Author:

Lucy Brignall's "The Farm" column appeared between 2012 and 2016.