Don’t Talk to Strangers…Not


I’ve always considered myself to be a gregarious, affable person who is not afraid of expressing herself. However, I was surprised to discover just how reluctant I have become in initiating conversations with strangers.

Yesterday, while running errands, I dashed into a local Chinese fast food franchise to grab a bite of lunch. While I munched on my kung pao chicken and read a magazine, a woman approached and took a seat at the table next to me. Although I was not annoyed with her, I did think it was odd that out of a dozen or more empty seats, she chose the one right next to me. (Okay, I guess I was a little annoyed that she was coming too close to the boundaries of my personal space.) I resumed eating and reading, and she in turn began eating and reading a novel.

A few minutes later I heard her say, “This is too much food. I should have gotten a To-Go container like you. (Her food was on a paper-plate). I responded by explaining that I had, in fact, told the counter-clerk that I was eating in but they had given me styro-foam To-Go container nonetheless. I told her that I avoid using styro-foam whenever possible. This led us into the discussion about the necessity of insisting that establishments like this adhere to environment-friendly practices, recycling styro-foam, other issues of sustainability, high rents in the neighborhood, and decluttering our apartments.

After about twenty minutes, I had finished my meal, and she had packed the rest of her lunch to go. We thanked each other for a delightful conversation and each went our separate ways.

It took no time for me to recognize how reluctant I had become to strike up a conversation with strangers. I am not typically a shy person and am quite talkative. In fact, more than one person has said that I talk too much and I need to shut up once in a while. Maybe the reason for this reluctance is the admonition of not talking to strangers given to me as a child by my mother had resurfaced from deep within. Or, perhaps I have become too influenced by others around me who are even less reluctant to engage with strangers. Maybe it’s because there really are bad people out there and I want to avoid them. Whatever the reason, I realized that I am starting a precarious inclination towards isolationism and that an attitude adjustment is required on my part.

It should be a no-brainer that we need to engage with the strangers in our neighborhoods. We need to get over the “I need my personal space” attitude. The more we engage with our neighbors, the more our neighborhoods benefit. The application of this thinking to a global situation should be obvious.

So the next time a stranger sits next to you, don’t be afraid to be the first to say “Please pass me the soy sauce.”

Lori G. © 2007


9 responses »

  1. I’ve always had trouble striking up conversations with strangers: partly due to shyness, partly due to residual angst suffered as a teenager who didn’t fit in, and partly due to social interaction just being so draining sometimes, introvert that I am. Also because I’m a horrible BS artist who dreads that inevitable lull in the conversation! But there have been times similar to your recent experience, Lori, where I found my initial annoyance at not being left alone was replaced by a really good conversation with someone. Ultimately, I need a little nudge like that from people sometimes. It’s good for me. I just need the courage to ask for the soy sauce myself!

    Now, my boyfriend starts conversations with ANYONE, sometimes to my utter mortification! But I envy him that way: he really has no agenda other than just talking, and if he makes a friend of it, it’s all the better.

  2. Interesting, Lori. I wish you luck with this, because I think it does add a lot to life to talk to different folks. I, on the other hand, tend to be the one who is starting conversations with strangers and I do get the strange looks! But I enjoy it, and hope they do too. (By the way, I have frequently been told I talk too much. My current co-worker has said so more than once…)

  3. I do talk to strangers
    and like them a lot.
    When you give it some thought
    how else do I know you? Fran-whose-mother’s-ghost still sits on her shoulder saying,” My dear that was a nice party but you talked too much.”

  4. When I took a Japanese guest on one of my mystery tours he was stunned by my ease with strangers. In Japan this is not customary but I never miss a good opportunity to have a chat. I have learned a lot from the strangers I talk to.

  5. I’m afraid I have begun to get a bit like Lori, probably something to do with the fact that I spend so much of my working time speaking to “strangers” that I have little energy for talking to more.
    One thing I have noticed when travelling in Thailand is that if you choose a place with no-one else in the vicinity someone will definitely come and sit next to you (almost on top of you). I have now learned that this is not because they wish to intrude on you but they think you might be lonely and are therefore offering you the comfort of their presence, even if they don’t even speak to you. It has made me rethink my attitude to this.

  6. ps we also have a friend who will strike up a conversation with anyone. Yes, I have cringed with embarrassment but sometimes these chance conversations bring unexpected fruit, for example, in the form of a restaurant recommendation we might never have come across or a useful address

  7. My Mom can do that- she’s great. She should have been a Spy or something because she can get you to spill your guts in like five minutes.

    I’m not like my Mom in the regard but I don’t mind talking to people either- I’m okay with it.

    anita marie

  8. People do not realize a simple saying hi can help you in the long run people that ignore me, i will ignore them simple as that, even though i believe in god i believe you better watch how you treat mankind.

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