K, so the reactions to my last blog have been… mixed. Which was kind of the idea, but it leaves me needing to clarify how hitchhiking works (or rather worked, for a teenage girl, 20+ yrs ago, in southern Europe — things are very different for different people in different places and times).
A friend put it very neatly and accurately:
“I think that the ‘rules of the road’ are some what more … straightforward than in more ‘organized’ places. It’s a black market economy where pretty much everything has a price – whether it’s money, services to be bartered, reciprocal favors, or sure, not unusually, just good company on a long drive.
He saw an opening, made you an offer. You refused. Life goes on.”
And that is bang on the money.
Hitchhiking is a risky business, widely discouraged – but so’s giving strangers lifts. The vast majority of people do it because they hope there’ll be something in it for them. In my experience (skewed by gender age location era), in order of frequency, you got picked up by:
- People wanting sex – not perverts or predators, just people hoping to get lucky. I always thought the main hitchhiking skill was being able to turn into a person they’d want to look after, rather than bonk. Anyone with half a brain can get picked up – it’s staying safe once you get there that’s the challenge.
- Bored people wanting company, particularly business drivers. This was my main “market”, as it was generally the safest. Lorry drivers could be a bit rougher around the edges, but they could radio ahead and organise you a whole chain of lifts; so they were higher-risk, higher-reward lifts. When companies started banning their employees from giving people rides (there are insurance and liability issues), that was pretty much the end of hitchhiking for me.
- People with a specific axe to grind, most notably the “you look like my daughter” crew. (Funnily enough, the “lemme tell you about Jesus” people would bother you endlessly if you were sleeping rough, but did they ever pick you up or do anything remotely useful? Did they fuck.)
- Ex-hitchhikers trying to keep the wheel of karma going in the right direction.
- Actual perverts and predators – pretty damn rare if you had a good system for getting rides, but definitely out there.
…and that’s about it.
People did not pick up purely out of chivalry or charity – or, even if they did, it was because they wanted to feel chivalrous or charitable, so it was still about them. In fact, wannabe white knights were pretty worrying. They are invested in a certain script, and if you neglect to follow it they can feel cheated; and the white knight is supposed to get the girl.
Now, if you think I’m being mean and unfair towards humanity, oh hum. That’s how it was, and it wasn’t that dissimilar from the level of attention you got anywhere else as a young single woman travelling for the sake of it.