It sounds odd, I know it does. Particularly as older German natives are generally less forthcoming when it comes to conversing with strangers. It seems though that when you do something they consider so completely and utterly stupid (demonstrating, in their eyes, a complete lack of understanding of the proper way to behave) they feel compelled to tell you about it.
I realise that sounds quite derisive, and I really don’t mean it to be so. I am very appreciative that these men felt so compelled to educate me, it was done in good spirit and I thanked them both.
The first situation was a when a woman hopped into the bus and the driver could not change her 50euro note. She was very normal looking. Reasonably dressed, neat tidy, respectable. She could very easily have been a friends mother. She turned to the passengers and asked if anyone would be able to change her 50 for her. Nobody responded, they either shook their heads or turned away as if one of the beggars was asking for spare change. I couldn’t help it. I think it’s a travellers thing. When you’ve been in rough patches and people have helped you out you can’t help seeing people in theirs and knowing it could just as easily have been you. I told her I might be able to, she sat in the seat across from me and I counted out 50euro in smaller notes and changed it for her. She was thankful, bought her ticket (the bus had kept moving of course) and sat down somewhere else. End of transaction.
While she was buying her ticket a rather serious looking but well-meaning older gentleman next to me told me ‘vorsicht mit geld wechseln!’ (be careful changing money) and warned me that many 50euro notes are forgeries and that it’s not a good idea. At first I just said ‘Oh’. Then I thought about it a bit more smiled at him and thanked him. He didn’t smile of course. Just nodded his head and continued to look serious.
I’m sure he’s right, you should be careful, and I thought to myself ‘well, if it’s a forgery I’ll consider it a 50euro deposit in the bank of good karma.’ When I got home I got all my 50’s out (three) and inspected them closely, not knowing anymore which was the one the lady had given me. They all looked exactly the same except that one of them had a different signature on it. I put that in my wallet deciding i’d best spend that one first and get rid of it just in case. They’re all gone now so it’s no matter anyway.
The second situation was late one evening on the bus home from a movie. The bus was surprisingly crowded for that time of the evening and I was sat up the front by the driver. At a stop along the way an older gentleman, (I can’t guess exactly at his age as I’m utterly hopeless with such things and these days you’d never get it right anyway) stepped into the bus. He had grey hair but was spritely, clearly not in any way incapacitated but clearly older than me. As we are trained to do from a young age I offered the gentleman my seat. To which he took good-humoured offence saying ‘oh goodness! Do I look that old? Do you think I’m old?! Thank you but no, I will stand, it’s ok.’ Not knowing how to react to this, although it was said with a smile and sort of laugh, I kept silent. He didn’t. He went on to advise, again well-meaning, that some people will get very offended if you offer them your seat ‘you see, they feel that if they need it they are quite capable of asking for it themselves’ he told me. Hmmm. Right! I told him that it was a habit left over from my school years and then became suddenly very engrossed in the contents of my mobile.
Really! How are we to know what is right and what is not these days? When doing what we are trained to think is right can still be taken as an offence?! Dear me. I know I am now at an ‘adult’ age where technically I have just as much right to the seat as any other but I still could not sit there if a mother with children, someone older than me, a pregnant woman or anyone else who looks in any way like they may benefit more from the seat were to step into the bus.
Now being in receipt of this information nobly imparted by knowledgable men would I behave any differently?
I don’t think so.
It always comes down to instinct and the moment. No matter what the situation is, you can always only do what you feel is right at the time. There’s nothing else to it. But I appreciate their insight all the same.