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Excuse me, but…

The Lovely Wife and I have decided we must both have what we call an ‘ask me’ face.

Let me explain what I mean.

When we are out and about, together or on our own, we seem to get asked for directions all the time. Friends of mine should find this very funny as I have the direction sense of a whirligig beetle, but still, they continue to ask. It does not matter which country I am in either; I have been stopped and asked for directions in Brussels and in Canada in recent months, which I find particularly amusing.

We do not know why this is. Possibly it is pure coincidence. Not being restricted by children maybe we are out and about more than many others and therefore might be the only people available to consult on where they can find the Abbey or a certain pub. Perception is something that is notoriously skewed by the individual. We all know when the world is against us and everything keeps going wrong. It isn’t usually and lots of things are going right at the same time but that is not how we perceive it. Our own special perception filter is extremely powerful and we either do not notice it or try and ignore it through denial. We all know that we are not as fat as we think we are but no matter how much we are reassured we will not listen once we have made our own decision and put on the dark glasses of ‘I’m not listening’.

But let us assume this is a real feature and people do find us easy to approach. Why might this be?

I have always aspired to the Douglas Adams classification of ‘Mostly Harmless’ so I take great pleasure of being asked for directions. Maybe I smile a more than I think I do. Maybe because I am not particularly tall and a little chubby I come across as less threatening. I know the Lovely Wife regularly smiles and her expressive hair is particularly distinctive. Maybe that hypnotises people into thinking she is a good person to help.

What makes you more likely to trust a complete stranger is a question I am sure has been studied at some point. As some people will know I recently was approached by a man in the cheap seats on the Eurostar recently asking me if he could use the power socket at my seat as his was not working and he need to recharge his Blackberry. He said he was from a couple of carriages down from me so it would be out of his sight. Sure, he would have it password protected (hopefully) but it still seemed to be putting some level of trust in a complete stranger. I asked him about it as I plugged the thing in, and he quipped that since I was reading The Guardian I must be a good chap. We laughed – but I think he meant it. As part of the image of me he saw was what I was reading as well as how I was dressed etc. and in this case he was partly influenced by his own (in this case positive) views of Guardian readers. He almost certainly reads it himself. So there may have been a tribe thing going on here, which certainly works for male-male interactions (the old chestnut about two men turning up at the same event in identical shirts making them friends for life, a situation that most of the girls I know would find mortifying).

But I wonder if unconsciously we are making ourselves available too. We both like giving directions and helping people, especially in our home town. It is quite possible that as well as walking over to the obviously lost we make body language cues that suggest openness. I hope so. I think a lot of time could be saved if we talked to each other a bit more.

By the way, if you do ask us for directions, the Lovely Wife is the better choice. I have the tendency to overcomplicate my directions, and am always a short sentence away from giving the historical commentary on the route, which when all they want to do is to find out where the nearest Subway sandwich shop is probably not that helpful.


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