Instant friendships


“Man sieht sich immer zweimal im Leben” is a great German catchphrase. The idea that you’ll meet everyone again sometime in your life seems to resonate with most of us, probably because it conveys a sense of universal justice. Above all, it is an incentive to treat fellow human beings with respect. The man at the busy fast food restaurant just now, who had decided that parking his coat over a stool while waiting in line would somehow entitle him to the only free table? One day, he will probably be my boss and so the heated argument we had over the burrito restaurant not being an Egyptian beach resort was probably ended just at the right moment.

All this makes it so interesting to notice an exception to the rule: Shared rides erode that very sentiment. Let me explain: When you have nothing to spend on a trip other than a lot of time, shared rides are a great way to get anywhere in this country. You look them up online, call a number, and if there’s a free seat in the car, the driver will take you along for a small fee, thus paying for his gas. A win-win situation.

Sitting in a car with complete strangers can be a pretty awkward affair. Similar to entering the microcosmos of taking the subway, it pairs you up with an utterly random set of people at a very close range and for a few hours. Often there is an odd consent not to talk, akin to an elevator where everyone just stares at the floor. At other times, people won’t stop talking or it is just too much of a shame not to talk to them yourself. I’ve had conversations with a musicians driving a hearse, a former hooligan with a thing for Thai prostitutes, an emergency doctor into techno music, and Swedish girl convinced that Friedrichshain smells bad. And among those, there were countless faces that faded back into the crowd. None of these people I have ever encountered again.

It is exactly that fact, which gives rise to an inherent paradox: When you talk to people and the conversation develops, it often stems from the very sense of never meeting again. It is like friendship speed-dating, with the stakes being impossibly low.
Last weekend I went to Dresden and while almost the entire car was silent, I carried on a two hour conversation with the girl next to me, whose name I never even learned. Basically, we talked about each other’s shortcomings as a person, since she was studying landscape architecture and thought very lowly of people dealing primarily with politics. She was also into the royal wedding and ponies, not exactly hard to criticize. Yet it developed into a pretty entertaining two hours. Once when we arrived in Dresden, we stepped out of the car into the warm spring air, while fireworks were going off in the distance. It was the grand finale of some city festivity and a pitch-perfect Hollywood moment. Then we walked off into different directions.
So you meet people that may actually be nice, but the circumstances of meeting them are so strange and artificial that they include the safety net of everything dissolving minutes after stepping out of the car. Under different circumstances, it might have developed into some strange friendship. Remains a puzzling memory instead. Until later in life.