My most memorable cab ride took place in Almaty, Kazakhstan, some 10 years ago. My usual driver had a small accident on the way to pick me up, so I took a regular cab. That turned out to be an old, but very clean Dacia with a driver who was well past 70.
He greeted me and immediately told me he wanted to guess where I was from.
“Are you American?” - Nope.
“British?” - Sorry, no.
“Etes vous Francais?” - Non.
“Türkiyeli misin?” - Hayir.
“Okay, I give up. Where are you from?” - Germany.
“Ah, Deutsch, natürlich”, he replied, and went on in almost flawless German: “I always wanted to read Goethe and Schiller, but never found the time. So all I read in my life were Tolstoi and Shakespeare.”
I was speechless. Asked him how many languages he spoke, and the reply really dropped my jaw.
Russian, Kazakh, Turkish, English, German, Italian and French, and a little Mandarin. “But not very good, I can make only a little conversation with Chinese guests.”
8 languages. And not just that, he proved to be quite knowledgeable about my home country, as we continued to discuss our national poets.
I asked him how he came to learn so many languages. Turns out he had been a simple factory worker all his life. Over the years, they had seen more and more international visitors. He had always found it quite easy to learn new languages. So he made a habit out of learning the languages of their foreign business partners and earned some extra money by working as an interpreter for the factory management.
After he had retired, he immediately decided to keep working as a cabbie, as that allowed him to continue making use of his language skills.
A truly humbling experience. And he was also excellent as a driver.