A whimsical piece on international interaction.
On the way back from our ski trip in Northern Japan, the car broke down, and we had to stay overnight in a hotel unexpectedly.
The next morning, Damian wanted to stay with his car and get it fixed or towed, but the other three of us decided to get a train home. When the train made a brief stop at a station, they announced that it would wait a few minutes for an express to pass, so I stepped out to buy a drink from a vending machine.
After I reboarded, Bart decided to do the same. He hadn't been in Japan as long as I had and was having trouble figuring out which button to push to get a can of hot coffee. When the chimes that announced a departing train started, he panicked slightly and pushed a button that said "HOT", and a can of Japanese green tea dropped out of the chute. To add insult to injury, the announcement was for a different train, so when he got back in the carriage we all had a good laugh about his mistake as he regaled us with his misfortune.
We asked him if he was going to drink it, and he said that he didn't like green tea, so he just sat there holding his can, feeling like a fool. After a few minutes, the old Japanese lady who was sitting across the aisle from us reached into her purse and took out a coin.She pointed at the can Bart was holding, and held up the 100 Yen coin, apparently offering to buy the drink off him.
When Bart noticed this, he looked at me for advice, but I was already doubled over trying to suppress a belly laugh. I managed to gesture at him to go ahead, so he reached across the aisle, gave her the drink, and took the coin from her. The old lady took the can, wrapped it in a hankerchief and waited for it to cool before drinking it. A few stops later she got off the train, flashing a polite bow at Bart in recognition of their interaction.
We took a while to recover from the hilarity that incident inspired in us, but after we had arrived home I found that I was left with a wonderful memory of a wordless interaction between two people of different cultures, brought together by circumstance.
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