It is much more difficult to approach a stranger in real life than you originally imagine. There is a fear that the person will be uncomfortable conversing with another stranger, which only fuels the belief that we should keep to ourselves when surrounded by strangers. I consider a person known when I no longer fear their rejection when we converse. I become more comfortable with them and we know more about each other’s lives. Now of course, there is the additional barrier of Covid-19 to get past before getting to that comfortable stage.
I was recently at a café with three close friends. We were sitting out on the patio, and we noticed a man, probably in his mid-twenties, coming up the stairway with a large travel backpack. I thought back to this prompt and greeted him. He seemed pleasantly surprised to be greeted and asked us how we were today. At this point, my friends jumped into the conversation, asking him about his day as well. He needed to access the internet and asked us if he could sit at a nearby table (the table was a safe physical distance away, so we replied, “Of course!”) At this point, I thought back to Hamblin’s “How to Talk to Strangers” and decided to try triangulation by remarking on something that all of us were experiencing in that moment. I asked the man about his very large backpack; I assumed that he was travelling, and he confirmed this assumption, telling us about his recent adventures across Western Canada. After some friendly conversation, the man bought drinks for my friends and I! It seemed that he may have been starved for in-person communication during this strange time, and I hope that him buying our drinks meant that he got a lot out of the interaction.
Eventually my friends and I left the café, but I felt accomplished after speaking to this stranger. Whenever I interact with strangers online, it is usually a lot more structured than when I speak to strangers. Online, I may be on a page where conversations tend to stick to a particular topic, such body positivity, or a certain author. While there are many different topics to be explored online, the conversations within those topics are quite focused. In real life, I had no sense of which topics this stranger would want to talk about, so I just used my instincts and let conversation flow naturally. It was not as if we had had a profound conversation (I would have felt uncomfortable asking him more personal questions), but I felt refreshed after speaking to someone who I had not expected to meet that day. It was surprisingly nice to step out of my usual routine and open myself up to a new experience.