Archive for the ‘Conversation’ Category

Service of Speaking with Strangers

Thursday, May 30th, 2019

Photo: sites.google.com

I find it easy to speak with strangers. It may be a New York thing. It came natural to me because when I was small I often saw my mother chat with fellow passengers on public busses or in the grocery store.

In the day, most guests passing one another in a hotel hallway at a resort would say, “good morning” or “good afternoon.”

Some people silently shout out to be spoken to. At an opening at MoMA a friend and I passed a man wearing a tie in primary colors with giant Warhol-style images. I commented on his choice, he beamed, and my friend said, “How can you do that?” I thought, “How could you not?”

I met my first husband in a college library and two of my dearest friends on a train.

Photo: wnyc.org

On my walk to work last week on a 50 degree day I saw a 30-something man who was well-groomed walking across Second Avenue in the 40’s, towards the UN, wearing jogging pants and no shirt, with a backpack. I half turned to a young man waiting for the light to change on 43rd Street as I was and said, “I wonder if he’s going for a job interview?” When I faced him, the stranger in a sweat shirt with a plumbing company logo was giggling. He replied, “I bet he gets the job!”

Speaking with people you don’t know is a good thing according to Elizabeth Bernstein in her Wall Street Journal article, “The Surprising Boost You Get From Strangers.” The subhead, “Sometimes a stranger—not a friend or a loved one—can significantly improve our day, providing comfort or helping to broaden our perspective.”

Photo: languageforlife.ca

She wrote: “ ‘People feel more connected when they talk to strangers, like they are part of something bigger,’ says Gillian Sandstrom, a psychologist and senior lecturer in the Department of Psychology at the University of Essex, in Colchester, England, who studies interactions between strangers.” The doctor has studies that show people have better days when they’ve spoken with strangers. The same with students who speak with classmates.

“And yet most people resist talking to strangers, she says. They fret about the mechanics of the conversation—how to start, maintain or stop it. They think they will blather on and disclose too much—or not talk enough. They worry they will bore the other person.”

Bernstein continued “And in a study in which she asked participants to talk to at least one stranger a day for five days, 99% said they found at least one of the conversations pleasantly surprising, 82% said they learned something from one of the strangers, 43% exchanged contact information, and 40% had communicated with one of the strangers again, an indication they might be making friends.

“Scientists believe there may be an ancient reason why humans enjoy interacting with strangers. To survive as a species, we need to mate outside our own gene pool, so we may have evolved to have both the social skills and the motivation to interact with people who are not in our tribe.”

Is speaking with strangers a New York City thing because there are so many opportunities to do so? Do you do this? Can you remember a conversation with a stranger? Because so many are wrapped up with their phones, is chatting with strangers a lost art?

Photo: doublemesh.com

 

Service of Encounters on Public Transport

Thursday, April 27th, 2017

Photo: pinterest

Photo: pinterest

Just last week I had two pleasant encounters on the NYC subway. These tend to happen less frequently these days with people’s eyes fixed on messages and games in smartphones or with minds distracted by entertainments coming through ear pods. If they talk it is to others on the phone. Maybe people are increasingly afraid of confrontation with strangers.

Friday Night
I was late to a dinner party waiting for a subway on an unfamiliar line so I asked a man on the platform if the B and D trains stopped at 86th and Central Park West. The 30-something removed his ear bud and said “You want the B or C–don’t take the D or any train that stops on the other side of the platform.” [The crosstown bus driver had told me to look for B and D.]

As time went on, with no train –we were at a station without electronic notification of the timing of the next one’s arrival–he kept the ear bud dangling on his shirt and we began to chat. He worried that he’d be late for his 7 pm restaurant reservation and I said, “You’ll be asked to wait at the bar most likely.” He shrugged and agreed. I went on, “My father threw a fit when asked to do that. He’d point to his watch and he’d repeat the time of his reservation and would demand a table. He was correct; nevertheless those with him wanted to disappear.”

Photo: huffingtonpost.com

Photo: huffingtonpost.com

The young man twisted his face in a grimace, “My mother returns every dish,” he said. “She’ll say, ‘it’s not what I expected–there’s something about it that I don’t like.’” I noted that I miss my father and that I’m glad his mother is still here to do her restaurant thing. He agreed and as he left the car at 81st Street, he waved goodbye and wished me a good evening. I don’t know about him but the distraction was what the doctor ordered as I’d forgotten my anxiety both about being late and the potential confrontations awaiting me at dinner.

Saturday Afternoon
Weekends are the worst time to take a subway in NYC as nothing works but on Saturday, it was pouring when I had to get to the west side so I ducked in a station at Lexington and 51st. A middle aged couple came up to me and a young woman also waiting on the platform. The man, with an English accent, asked if this train was heading downtown. Turned out that we were going to the same part of town. We could have gone directly in one stop had the E train been working.

Photo: Brokelyn

Photo: Brokelyn

They were from London. We named our favorite cities–the wife’s was New York, said her husband, and we named London and Paris, but he didn’t declare his. We got out of the Lexington Avenue train at 42nd Street and on the walk to the Shuttle—the second of three lines we had to take–I mumbled that New York can seem like it’s falling apart sometimes. He snickered and mentioned our President followed briskly and politely by a reference to Brexit. Shrugs all ‘round.

One stop on the 7th Avenue subway took them a block from Radio City, their destination. I was happy I could do for tourists what countless others do for us when we travel.

Do you have any interesting encounters to share during train, plane or bus travels? Have you noticed, in NYC at least, that they happen less frequently than years ago?

Photo: foursquare.com

Photo: foursquare.com

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