Something interesting happened to me last week: a stranger spoke to me; like really spoke to me. I’m usually a pretty shy person when it comes to talking to strangers and meeting new people. Once I have that initial conversation, I’m good, but I’m often terrified of starting a conversation with someone I’ve never met. It speaks to that cultural lesson we all share that says don’t speak to strangers [because they might be dangerous].
So let me set the stage a little bit here. We Canadians are known to be friendly. So we’ll easily do the basic friendly conversation thing like saying thank you when someone opens a door for us or helps us with something. And being a naturally friendly person, I tend to smile a lot when I’m just walking down the street. That, in itself, is a pretty cool social experiment and I highly suggest it.
Just walk down the street to wherever you’re going and smile; like really smile. Then when people cross your path, make eye contact with them and notice their reactions. Some people will smile back, some people barely notice you, and some people look at you like you’re insane or have some creepy ulterior motive; like you’re going to go sneak into their house and steal their children in the night, and your smile is the pre-cursory hint before your vile action.
Those are my favorite. I love freaking people out with a smile.
But my social experiment usually ends there. I never ACTUALLY address people, or at most, it’s just Hello, how are you? Beautiful day. Hold the elevator please.
So last week, I was taking my car into the shop for regular maintenance (yeah, regular maintenance that cost me over $800… which I’m grateful for because those boys take care of my baby but goddamn they hurt my wallet sometimes). Anyway, when you drop off your car in the morning, they offer you a shuttle service to work. I’m usually alone with the friendly Jamaican driver who talks me up a storm and it’s generally a pleasant ride.
There’s something ok about talking to a cab or shuttle driver isn’t there? Like they’re one of those exceptions to the stranger rule. Cab drivers, bar tenders and dental hygienists, although the latter generally do most of the talking while you just go ahan!
But this time, we had a full van. Since I’ve used the shuttle service before, I knew the routine and this other man, who had seemed friendly at the counter, looked like he was just following along with everyone else, not really knowing what was going on. As we got into the initial van, we found a seat way in the back, and I said Too bad we couldn’t sit closer to the door, we’re just going to get out in a minute to switch cars anyway. Sure enough, we get to the other dealership where some of us get off while others get on. We find a seat in the new car and put our seatbelts on.
Although I was in a good mood, I was tired that morning and was hoping to sit quietly with my coffee and just slowly let the caffeine bring my brain to life. But this man kept addressing me, saying short sentences and soon enough I found myself talking about how we used to go to the park (down the street, through the alley, across another street, and over the hill) and spend all day playing there, only coming home for lunch and then dinner. We laughed about how our parents only worried about us if we didn’t make the dinner curfew; boy how the times have changed.
And suddenly, I found myself having this fascinating conversation with this man who, it turns out, has 3 children (including a set of twins) and how he’s training them to be independent by starting to go to the park by themselves (and how it freaks out his wife when she finds out). Then all sorts of great pieces of information came out like the fact that he lived in Africa and Asia for parts of his life (which clicked in my head like Ohhhh! Now I get it. He’s a traveller – because the more I learn about people who travel, the more I realize they all seem comfortable talking to strangers).
Soon enough (too soon, I curiously found), it was time to get off the shuttle and into work. I wished there was a way to keep in touch with him, or that I at least had the guts to ask his name. He seemed like such a nice, smart and funny person to know. And as I walked away smiling, I was a little sad knowing I would likely never see him again, but so grateful for this little moment of unexpected joy.
If he hadn’t persisted in holding conversation with me, I might never have had this wonderful experience. And as I let it all simmer inside my mind, I remembered a quote that I read on a blog about connecting with people. It said something like:
See strangers as friends you just haven’t met yet.
This had been the perfect way to demonstrate that.
And so I think I will push myself out of my own comfort zone by looking for more opportunities to talk to strangers and seeing what other little moments of happiness I can create. I encourage you to do the same; and let me know what happens when you do!