I know, you were raised to believe that talking to strangers is dangerous and can only end with you unconscious in a van somewhere.
I understand completely; as a child, my mum made my sisters and I watch The Lovely Bones so that we wouldn’t trust strange old men. Despite this, I have come to learn that interacting with people you don’t know can be good for you (but don’t ask the shadowy figure following you down the street how their day is going). So, as a self-proclaimed paranoid person, I feel I am qualified in advising safe and easy ways to talk to strangers.
I was a very quiet child, but now that I’m an adult, I have found that I enjoy meeting new people and talking to strangers, despite still considering myself an introvert. Two experiences can be credited with giving me the confidence to be more outspoken. The first is the 11 jobs I have had in the last six years (yes, 11, no more questions please) as they forced me out of my comfort zone and taught me how to talk to strangers. The second was Falls Festival 2019 which ended with me hitchhiking with two women I barely knew at 2am in Byron Bay Hinterland with not one single working phone between us.
Maybe it sounds silly now to say that I thought I might die that night, but I can still distinctly remember walking in silence, in almost complete darkness for over two hours. I promised myself and whatever higher power exists that I would be more grateful, start living my life, and doing what I wanted with it. Eventually, one of the festival photographers found us and was kind enough to take us home (I owe you my life Kirra!). There’s something about almost dying that puts life into perspective, and from that point on, embarrassing myself wasn’t that embarrassing anymore. Disclaimer! I am NOT recommending that you put yourself in a life threatening situation. Instead, just heed the words of someone who has been there, so you don’t have to.
I’m sorry to say it, but if you struggle with talking to strangers, it’s likely that your phone is to blame. We are encouraged to place all our social responsibility on social media, where interacting with others is a more palatable and risk-free experience. You can now talk to strangers without showing your face or having to leave the safety of your bed, you big baby! It sounds like a great idea on paper, but the reality is that meeting people “organically” is even harder now, because we have learnt that we don’t have to leave our homes. But if we never leave our comfort zones, we never find the courage to do exciting things in our lives. So maybe just put your phone down once in a while.
But why should we talk to strangers? Basically, harnessing this skill will increase confidence and teach you how to step out of your comfort zone. Maybe it will even allow you to make new friends, something that people have reported struggling with a lot more in this generation opposed to others. Humans are designed to live in close knit communities after all, not in isolation.
Here are some easy ways to incorporate more chats with strangers into your life.
The People Who Are “Working” For You – Cashiers, and sales assistants are typically down to have a chat if they’re not busy. As someone who has worked extensively in the hospitality and retail industries, I often really appreciate when one in 100 customers that I’ve robotically asked ‘how are you today’ return the question and genuinely listen. Many times, I have turned to a coworker after having a short conversation with a customer to say, ‘oh my god, I LOVE when customers are nice!’ Basically, talk to your servers and sales assistants like real people (because they are). Sometimes servers can be rude, but remember it isn’t personal. The person that your server hates is likely their boss or capitalism, which we can’t really blame them for.
Uber Drivers – These can be some of the most interesting people to talk to, and they talk to strangers all the time! I remember getting an Uber after a concert and having a lovely chat with my driver about the meaning of life and doing what you love because life is short. Just don’t be like this other Uber driver I had who, within ten seconds of buckling my seat belt, launched into the details of his custody battle completely unprompted.
Compliment People! – Why keep compliments to yourself? If you see someone walking down the street, and love their outfit, tell them! Everyone loves getting compliments; I’m sure you can think of a time a stranger complimented you, and how good it made you feel. This can often to lead to a longer conversation or maybe just a quick ‘thank you!’ Either way, you’ve had a positive interaction with a stranger, and that is the most important thing.
Walkies – Another easy one is just greeting the people you walk past if you are someone who often goes on strolls, walks or runs. Just a simple ‘good morning’ or ‘hi’ will suffice.
Events – Talking to people at concerts, gigs, or similar events is another fun way to interact with strangers. You already know what you have in common, so just ask them their favourite song and let the conversation roll.
The Elderly – Old people often have a lot more free time than people of other ages and just really enjoy making conversation with strangers – sorry to stereotype you, Old People! I promise you most of them are not racist bigots. In fact, some of my favourite interactions with strangers have been with the elderly. There was the woman who complimented my tattoos outside an Aldi which led to a conversation about the importance of supporting local farmers. Or the man who worked at an antique store who agreed that life for the younger generations is difficult because everything is too expensive, and we have nowhere to go and nothing to do. Also, you will likely improve their perception and opinion of young people which is a bonus. Let’s bridge the generation divide people!
Tips – If starting a conversation with a stranger is still too daunting, but you’re open to the idea, then a good tip is to stay off your phone when you’re in public. People are unlikely to want to talk to you if you’re scrolling. Plus, you’re less likely to be robbed if you put your phone down and look alert so it’s a win-win situation really.
- ‘Strangers’ by The Kinks
I know this is a song about long-lost friends and how the connection between two people can become so distant that they eventually become strangers. But you can also interpret it in the literal sense, in that everyone is connected in some way. We get to meet so many people throughout our lives, and there’s a great sentimentality to the thought that even a stranger can have an impact on your life, no matter how small.
- Let’s Get Lost by Adi Alsaid
This is a coming-of-age novel about a young woman named Leila, road tripping across America, and the story is told from the perspective of the four strangers she meets and change along the way. Some people are only meant to be in your life for a short time, while a select few will stay with you for your entire life, but no matter the length of the relationship, each is important and special in its own way. This book is about the short relationships, the ones that have only just stopped being strangers. I first read this novel when I was around fourteen, and I still think about it often, ten years later.