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Seeking Out Strangers

In my youth I was told that I shouldn't talk to strangers, a perfectly fine lesson taught to small children, and one I taught my own. The notion that I should avoid or distrust strangers stuck with me into early adulthood. It wasn't until my mid twenties that I began to test the waters and strike up conversations with random people.

As the years passed I grew bolder in that exercise, and now it's a regular habit. I seek out strangers to chat with everyday from the person standing next to me in my hometown grocery store to the interesting people who I meet when I travel. They've all taught me something based on their life experience.

All of these encounters began with a simple hello that led to an introduction and then the conversation flowed from there. Inevitably I find I'm the one who gains from them opening up their lives and sharing their unique perspective.

There was a shepherd I met while traveling with my family just outside of Christchurch, New Zealand, who showed us his sheep and his staff and his way of life of his farm.

There was a restaurant owner I met in Tulum, Mexico who showed me his precise ingredients and demonstrated the proper way to make ceviche.

I remember this woman we met coming out from her daily ocean swim in Surfer's Paradise who informed me (and my Aussie cousin who I was with) about the real estate market in east coast Australia.

Then there was the environmental engineer I met on the north shore of Oahu who, while taking a break from surfing, sat down on the sand and educated me about Hawaii's seasonal waves and ocean currents.

I remember the woman I met in Chinchero, Peru who showed me and my travel companions how she makes natural dyes with plants to colorize alpaca yarn.

I remember the fun couple from Newfoundland I met on the train from Lagos to Lisbon who told me how they had raised three daughters but wanted to escape the cold so they left and started a brand new life in Portugal.

I recall the ranger from Cairns in Queensland, Australia who I met thinking the water dragon that ran by me had escaped. He told me all about reptiles on his preserve including the menacing 60 year old salt water crocodiles that lived on the property.

And I remember the gentleman who sat next to me on the plane from London to Los Angeles who explained how dire the homeless situation was in his city.

My list goes on and on.

It may sound scary to some or odd to others. But think about it this way. You're a stranger to me and I'm a stranger to you. If we met with a simple hello and began to talk, I'm sure we'd both enjoy the exchange and perhaps learn something from each other. Strangers are simply friends we haven't met yet.

There's a meme that floats around that reads "headphones on, world off" and that's fine when you're at the gym or need some alone time. I take the opposite approach when I'm out and about. Headphones off, world on.

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Oh I couldn't agree more--from China to Thailand to India to Hungary to Mexico to 20 other countries, the best encounters have been on the street, in a line, in a restaurant, on a bus etc etc. And I do the same thing at home (as I'm sure you do, Kate!). Today I took a watch in to have a battery replaced and told the guy there, "Does everyone tell you that you have great hair?!" We had a fun talk--I gave him some advice on parenting a 13 year old daughter, and then he said "Well, I'm giving you a discount for saying such nice things!" So there can be that benefit as well!

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