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Conversation with a stranger

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Meeting strangers is a necessary part of everyday life. Whether in a workplace or relaxed social settings, getting to know strangers is a way to make new friends. Sure, there’s a tinge of anxiety when meeting someone for the first time because of the importance of making a first impression. And we all want to be well-liked from the start.

My most embarrassing encounter was on a city bus in Scarborough when going to work. I got on but there wasn’t an empty seat to be had. While standing and swaying with the rhythm of the bus, a very attractive women took me by surprize when she said, “Good morning Bob.” A little taken aback and with some hesitation I asked, “Do we know each other?” When she said no, I asked how she knew my name. She replied, “It’s on your lunch bag.”

Up until that bus incident I would rarely have initiated a conversation with a stranger but thought it might be rather fun. So a few days later if I happened to notice someone of interest I would ask this total stranger something requiring a response. Like, “Do you like cats” and if so, I’d say I do too, even if I didn’t. Maybe to a trades person, “What kind of work do you do, my uncle was a bricklayer” even if he wasn’t.” As you gain more sophistication in approaching strangers, you may soon tap someone on the corner and say, “You look like an athlete I once knew.” That could lead to almost anywhere.

There are day to day situations where you might want to strike up a conversation. You could be placed at the wrong lunch table, standing in a line waiting for the beer store to open or sitting next to another traveler on a plane.

On one particular plane ride from Vancouver I had ordered a double-decker sandwich to tide over my severe hunger pains. When it arrived, it was credit card only and I didn’t have mine with me. I turned to the uppity lady next to me for help. She had purposely ignored me for nearly two hours despite stepping on her foot and nearly dislodging her from her seat upon returning from a washroom hiatus. I gathered the desperation in my face got to her as she reluctantly reached for her card. My quest with a stranger this time wasn’t a total flop.

Then back in 2017, I saw an American tourist with Ohio license plates leave his car to go into Kenny’s Store. I said “Welcome to Canada. I guess you’re pretty upset with your new President.” Wrong comment! He went into a tirade about the other party being freaking liberals. He said he wouldn’t live in the same neighbourhood with them. I had no idea that politics were that serious. I lived beside an NDP supporter for years and it didn’t make any difference.

One time I misdialed and an elderly lady answered. When I apologized, she said that she liked talking on the phone. So to be respectful, I listened to her for the next hour all about her family history, even down to a great-grandchild she adored. I ended up knowing both her middle and maiden names, where her four children had settled and how she loved goat’s milk. I swear if I had asked for her banking information she would have given it. Finally I exclaimed I had to hang up. She said, “Please call me back in a few days.” I said I would but actually I couldn’t as I don’t know what number I had dialled.

When you must end a conversation, do it with a graceful line like, “Sorry but I have to talk to another person. Who do you suggest?” or “See you later, I’m late for the bus.” There are times when the other person is ready to leave. You will know that if their toes are pointing away from you.

Sometimes a new conversation is destiny. I know a couple residing in the Westmeath area who when they were single, each was catching a train from Ottawa to Toronto for a Blue Jay game. I don’t recall off-hand who said what first but from that magic moment on they were and still are a duet with harmony.

Then comes a moment when you notice a stranger is staring. Rather than look away, the idea is to follow up when the opportunity arises to speak to that person. It can be serendipity, realization of a lifelong friendship.