Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Oh, The People You'll Meet

I sat in the same row as another engineer on my flights between Joburg and Paris, on my way to and from Italy. And I was reminded that people will always surprise you.

On my way there, I had the most wonderful, interesting conversation with a guy from Zimbabwe, who had studied all over the world and now works in the USA, making aeroplane engines for the A380 aeroplanes (among others). It was wonderful talking to him and we chatted about engineering and the jobs we had been involved in. We chatted about family. We talked about travelling. We discussed Zim and how his views on Zim (as an expat Zimbo). We talked about South Africa. We talked about people, in overseas universities, studying "Africa", without knowing what it's like to actually live here. About our skills shortage in engineers. 

He spoke respectfully and thoughtfully, without giving me the impression that he was trying to be cool or gain one-upmanship. Even when he talked about something that you would perceive to be negative, he did it positively. He engaged both myself and the other guy in our row (who was off to Italy to do training for forklift driving), in conversation and was genuinely interested in what we both had to say. Lastly, he addressed our Air-France hosts and hostesses in their native language! All without show. I have to say, that barely knowing this guy, he has gained my utmost respect.

Sunrise at the airport
Sunrise at Charles de Gaulle Airport on the way to Italy
On my way back, another engineer sat in my row. After the normal, "Hey, howzit going...blah blah" some of the next words out of his mouth were, "Wow, I'm so excited to be going home. This place is filthy and gross. I couldn't speak the language, no one could understand me and I can't wait to get out of here."
Wow, strong sentiments to express to someone who you've only just met and a country that you haven't had time to explore. Although, to be fair, he had been staying in a red-light district and didn't get the note that in France, corporate engineers suit up to go to work and don't really do the whole jeans-and-collared-shirt thing. 

We talked a bit more and I found out he's working for a company that builds trains and he did his thesis in microprocessors and sensors for microprocessing. Interesting job and thesis topic, but after one or two more questions from my side, I gave up making conversation. This guy seemed to be only interested in blowing his own horn or complaining about things. And, to be frank, he was annoying me and all I wanted to do was read my book and then try to get some sleep.  

So, two different flights. Two different chats with fellow engineers who were like chalk and cheese. So much for those boxes and labels that we all automatically put people into when we first meet them (and don't lie to yourself, even if you have an open mind, you make a judgement on people before you even talk to them). 

And I was reminded that people will always surprise you.

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