“Stranger, if you passing meet me and desire to speak to me, why should you not speak to me? And why should I not speak to you?” Walt Whitman
I like to tell people I’m shy. It’s fun to watch them try to stifle their laughter.
I’m not at all shy. I have a vague memory of being afraid to talk to strangers when I was very young, but that went away. Far, far away. Now, I’ll talk to anyone. In the grocery store line. In elevators. Walking down the street. On the bus.
I know that there people who aren’t comfortable talking to strangers, and I try to pay attention to that when I’m chatting. I don’t want to make anyone feel anxious. But those people are few and far between. Most people are kinda surprised when I start talking with them, but jump into the conversation pretty easily.
Which is partly why I have enjoyed the jobs where I’ve worked directly with the public. Working at the fair last summer was a total blast. Every day, I got to go out and talk to as many people as possible about what kind of fun they were having, asking questions about their lives and experiences with the fair in the past, chat with the kids in 4-H and FFA, and interview the performers.
Most of these interactions are passing. But, some are lasting. I’ve made some great friends from people I’ve just struck up a conversation with. Cat and Diane are my former bus-buddies. Shellee and Nancy are folks I emailed randomly out of the blue based on a shared interest. And then there are all the great friends I’ve met through them!
But even if I don’t become friends with everyone I chat with, I still meet some interesting people. Like the woman in line at the Flying Goat wearing the Monty Python t-shirt. Turns out, she sews costumes and is into all kinds of geeky stuff.
And, recently, Eric has been reaching out to fellow gamers in the area by posting things to the Santa Rosa sub-reddit board. We’ve invited a couple of them over for parties, and they all seem like people we would want to hang with more regularly.
Sure, there are some not-so-pleasant people out there, and usually within a minute or two I can tell when someone isn’t going to be good future-friend material. But even those people are still worth talking to. Those are the people who share simple recipes or give me ideas for crafts projects.
And there are folks who aren’t in a mood to chat or are otherwise uninterested. And that’s OK too. I can usually spot those people, and if my initial smile doesn’t get returned, I figure they’re not into chatting. I totally respect that. There are times when I’m not in a mood for chatting either. Those times are few and far between, but they do happen.
The few creepsters I meet are relatively easy to deal with. The first rule is that I always trust my gut. If someone gives me a creepy vibe, I pay attention to that and adjust my interaction. My personal boundaries are pretty strong to begin with, and I regularly reinforce them.
On the whole, most people are just regular folks who enjoy chatting. So, yeah, I’m going to keep talking to strangers.