I was traveling recently. Hertz’s bus from car rental drop off to the terminal was crowded. I threw the luggage on the rack and stood by. Then I heard, “Would you like to take my seat?”. I looked back. There was a man in his late 30s, may be early 40s, getting up and pointing to the seat on the bench. Fashionably dressed and speaking slightly accented English. I glanced around just to make sure he was talking to me. He was. I felt strange. No one has ever done anything like this to me before. I was amused. I don’t feel old, nor I am incapacitated, hopefully don’t look either. Must be my gray hair. I felt like laughing, but managed to tone it down to a polite smile.
Suddenly came a flashback from my life in Poland. In Warsaw, we used city transportation a lot. It was a sign of good manners and a proper upbringing to offer your seat to older people, especially older women, and also to women with small children and soon to be mothers. It was quite natural, but if a young boy didn’t’ comply, he got the looks and often was reminded of proper behavior. When I first came to the United States, the next day I took a subway trip to Manhattan. On one of the stops came in an older looking woman. I immediately jumped up and offered her my seat. I will never forget the look on her face. She clutched her purse and quickly walked away to the other end of the car. I frankly didn’t expect it and was dumbfounded. Later on, I learned that at that time, the crime rate in New York was high. It was before Giuliani’s time as a mayor.
Back on the Hertz’s bus, I was thinking of the younger man’s accent.
“Where are you from?”
There followed very polite conversation on the advantages and disadvantages of life in Italy and comparison with the life in the United States. Not all of it in English. Quite a pleasant experience.
I was thinking of the reason for his move. He didn’t seem to be motivated by his physical superiority. Most probably he wanted to show me his respect. In some cultures, with a preserved traditional family structure, older people are highly regarded and respected just for living that long. Their physical decline is looked over and advantage in experience is admired. Italy is just one of these countries.
He was ready to leave the bus.
I gave my seat to a young pregnant lady standing not far away from me.