Process Post #1: Talking to Strangers

“How to Talk to Strangers?”, we were asked last week. Frankly, I had no idea. The formula of how to have engaging, appropriate, and comfortable conversations with unfamiliar faces was unbeknown to me. Sure enough, this led to having my own stranger encounters this past weekend. Here are my thoughts.

Pre-Interaction Insight

I wholeheartedly agree with Hamblin that our behaviour changes when we’re around the familiar; when we’re around people that we know. But this observation raises a variety of questions. What constitutes a stranger? When exactly do you know someone?

As a kid, I used to think that anyone I didn’t remember meeting was a stranger. Simple. But now that I’m older, I’ve seen friends turn into strangers, so what good is that definition? Sorry, didn’t mean to get that deep. So to prevent any further rambling, let’s just say that knowing someone—surpassing stranger status—entails knowing their name and being able to say five things about them. 

Stranger danger?

Stranger encounters are always, well, strange. I enjoy being in my bubble when I’m on my daily commute, so I didn’t think that bursting somebody else’s would result in a fruitful conversation. Long story short, this is how I ended up trying to get non-regular customers at work to talk to me about more than just their order.

As it turns out, offering someone baked goods (I work at a bakery, I’m not a creep) is the gateway to a million kinds of conversations. Weekend plans, family drama, children’s allergies. And although I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know my customers, it wasn’t always easy. For instance, how personal is too personal? What are the boundaries of our conversation? Not to forget, how do you end things? “Okay, bye…” is too brash, but “See you!”, is too friendly and implies another meeting in the future. In hindsight, I suppose the latter would have still been appropriate since I was at work, but much like this post, the question of how to say farewell is still up in the air.

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