The Power of a Friendly Gesture


Last Friday, I found myself on the train back home from Ghent, a train ride that I’ve been enduring for the past four years. It marks the start of my weekend and it’s usually time I spend reading. Anyways, I was on the train when the railway guard came to check our tickets. I’d filled mine out hours before hopping on the train, but had somehow mistakenly filled out the wrong line of my 10 rides pass. I filled out the correct line quickly. The guard saw me scribbling away and assumed the worst: there was no ‘Hello’ or ‘Good day’, I handed over my ticket when he told me off for not filling it out before getting on the train. I tried to explain what went wrong, but he rudely and loudly repeated his remark without letting me finish my explanation. Ugh, to assume the worst meant that I was labeled the fare dodging student. Knowing myself and knowing that I am anything but that, I was frustrated.

Needless to say, I’d lost almost all faith that I would ever meet a friendly conductor, when a few hours back today I found myself on the train to Ghent again. I was stressed, had just had a good cry over my thesis writing and not having enough time to study for exams (A whole lot of complaining in this blog post is what you’re probably thinking, but I’m getting to the good stuff soon, promise!). In other words, I was having a shitty evening. I was reading yet another text about the transformations from Old to Middle English when the railway guard came in to check our tickets. Not to assume the worst myself, I handed over my correctly filled out train pass to the grey-haired man with a slight smile, almost too scared to expose all of my sincere kindness. He smiled back broadly. He accepted my train pass as if it was a gift. I was pleasantly surprised, of course. But things got better. He stopped to ask me what I was studying and what master I was doing at uni. He told me I looked like a diligent student. Things got even better. He looked me in the eyes, put up both of his thumbs and told me he would be “ready” all through the exams and right before he turned around he wished me “Good Luck”. How did he know I was having a bad day? Could he read minds? Was he a wizard? (Or have I been watching too many Game of Thrones episodes?)  In any case, to me he was a godsent gift.

Truth is, he probably didn’t know I was having a bad day. He had no idea how stressed I was, or what is going on in my life for that matter. But he stopped to ask and took what was a mere minute of his time and utterly brightened up my grey evening (literally: it is raining cats and dogs as I write this), probably without even realising it. What I’m trying to say is: a small, tiny even, gesture of kindness goes a very long way. And sometimes it goes all the way to Ghent with you, on a train.

If everyone was just a little bit more like you, Mr. Conductor, the world would be a sunnier place. Thank you for reminding me of the power of a friendly gesture.


Vandaag bevond ik mij op de trein richting Genk. Met een vertraging (haha, richting Limburg) van reeds 15 minuten vertrokken we. Het examen dat ik eerder die namiddag had gemaakt proberend te vergeten, begin ik aan een boek. Slechts luttele minuten later lig ik onderuitgezakt in de koude zetel. Ik besef dat ik al 4 keer dezelfde zin heb gelezen en nog altijd geen idee heb over de inhoud ervan. Wanneer zo een scenario zich afspeelt, vind ik het wel leuk om aan de hand van de stem van de conducteur te raden hoe die er zal uitzien. Uiteraard alleen als ik hem of haar nog niet heb gezien. Ik speel niet vals. Deze keer klinkt de stem enthousiast. Iets te enthousiast misschien zelfs. De aankomende stations in Brussel worden aangekondigd alsof we ons allemaal in een spelquiz bevinden. “En achter deze deur bevindt zich de voor u speciaal uitgekozen…  TADAAAA!” Ik heb bijna zin om me kandidaat te stellen. Bijna. Wanneer de conducteur uiteindelijk ook in het verplichte Frans begint, wordt het enthousiasme bijna pijnlijk. Nous arrrrrivons à Bruxellllles-Noooooorrrrd. Applaus? Ik weet het niet meer. Ik stel me een blonde, rondborstige, maar toch rijpe dame voor. Een oneindige roze lipstick-glimlach op haar aangezicht gelijmd. Fout. Een bruinharig, klein, mannelijk uitziend type wandelt de coupé binnen. De eeuwige glimlach is er wel. Wanneer ik denk klaar te zijn om mijn prijs in ontvangst te nemen, kijkt ze teleurgesteld naar het enige te knippen kaartje. Het mijne. Ik heb verloren. Ik stap uit en even moet ik glimlachen om mijn kleine mislukte spelletje. Of… is een lach dan toch aanstekelijk?