The First Story:
The first day we moved into our new apartment in Barcelona I got all our family locked out of it. It was September 4th, the first school day for my daughter, and my parents had come to pick her up from school. On our way to the restaurant to celebrate the date we stopped by our newly rented apartment to show it to my parents. Everybody was already on the street waiting for me, and after doing some latest touchups, I thoughtlessly slammed the door behind me, leaving the key in the keyhole. 6pm. Everybody tired and hungry. Great! My dad came to check why I was not coming and I told him what happened. He suggested we call the locksmith. Well, to tell the truth we just had that experience a week before when my two-year-old son locked himself in the bathroom and it took us two hours and 160 Euros to get him out of it. And as the locksmith had to cut the door to get my son out we also had to replace it.
I got a better plan in my head, I knew that we had left the office window open, because it overlooked the inside “patio” and it was relatively safe. Our neighbors must have a window overlooking this space too. The next thing I did was to call the doorbell of the door in front of us. Yes, for a split of a second I thought of the possibility of them getting scared and calling the police or not trusting me to get inside their house in order to get into my own house. We just had moved in that same morning, they did not know us. A friendly lady in her mid sixties opened door and I explained her the issue as clearly as I could in one minute. Yes, I wanted to do it fast, so that I do not get my husband and the kids involved and make everybody nervous. Once the lady got my plan she was ready and willing to help. She called her husband and they both showed me the way to their small room and opened the window for me. Her husband helped me to get from their window to mine. It was not too high, we live on entresuelo (which is a second floor in Spain), but still I was in a short dress and wedges and their help was very much appreciated. I got to my apartment, pulled the key out of the door and successfully met the whole party at the elevator. We thanked the neighbors for their help and headed to the restaurant for dinner.
Later on we met this couple many times on the street, at the local toy store or talked to them when both of us were doing our laundry on the back balcony. They turned out to be extremely nice people. They offered to babysit out kids if we needed to run an errand or just wanted a couple of free hours. They brought our kids toys that their grandchildren overgrew; they offered us to use their library whenever we wanted, gave us advice about music schools, invited us for coffee and told us to call their doorbell anytime there is an emergency. It is the beginning of an amazing story of human kindness and openness to strangers. And we barely have been living in this apartment for a month.
The Second Story:
In August I got an email from a mother of our close friend saying that a friend of her friend got accepted to the Stanford PhD program and will be moving to Stanford, Bay Area this September. She also told us that he will be looking to rent some place to live and if we could help him with advice on housing. I emailed her back asking her to share my email with her friend and ask him to email me. I also mentioned that I do not live in the Bay Area now, but still will be glad to help in any possible way.
A week ago I got an email from this friend of my friend who got accepted to the Stanford PhD program and was looking for housing in the area. I told him I will ask my friends from the Bay Area and may be they could help. I also sent him couple of emails with the links to sites like craigslist and others where he could look for housing, as well as told him what places to avoid, how to get around and which was the best coffee place in Palo Alto. I mentioned to him that I emailed almost all of my friends in the Bay Area asking about housing and I would let him know as soon as I hear back from them.
Half of the friends I emailed about housing did not reply. The second half replied directing me to the craigslist.
This story is short and it ends here. Nobody asked to pass his or her email or phone to him in case he had a question. Nobody showed any kind of interest in this new person coming to a new place, to a new country. Nobody really cared about being open to a stranger. Or even not so much a stranger.
Barcelona, October 6th 2012