Whenever I’m back in the UK, it’s always noticeable that people don’t smile – or even make eye contact – when they pass each other in the street.
Sometimes I test this out: I attempt to meet the eyes of a mother passing by with her children and give them a friendly smile. More often than not, the mum keeps her gaze fixed straight ahead (though to be fair, she’s probably too busy making sure her kids don’t tumble off the narrow pavement into the road – or thinks I’m a lunatic).
But today was different. My mum and I popped into Starbucks and as we walked in, an elderly lady who was leaving gave us the biggest Cheshire cat grin I’ve ever seen. Totally unprompted.
How nice, I thought. What a sweet lady and how friendly.
Then some young girls, aged no more than 12 or 13, arrived and asked if a £20 note had been handed in.
“Yes, but we gave it to the old lady,” replied the woman behind the counter. “She said it was hers and I believed her!”
Well, you would, wouldn’t you? The pensioner looked just like someone’s doting grandmother, with a creaky hip, sensible shoes and blue-rinse blow dry.
My mum and I sat down to drink our tea, laughing quietly that the opportunistic Granny with the triumphant grin must have seen her chance and grabbed it with both hands. She’d probably hopped straight on a bus flashing her bus pass by now, we thought.
But, to our surprise, she returned, having been rounded up by the young girls in their teeny-tiny shorts and their pubescent spotty boyfriends.
“How dare you?” she roared at the youngsters as she was accused of stealing their note [which they shakily said they’d left on a seat – the boyfriends, at this point, backing off in the direction of the muffins].
She had a story ready but, unfortunately, it had more holes in it than a sieve and the money was handed over to the girls, before everyone went on their way.
I felt rather sorry for her, with hard times n’ all in the UK recently, and there was a high chance she was just really confused, so I gave her a smile when we passed again later – but this time I just got the standard ear-to-ear blank look in return.
Better luck next time, love!