Service of Other People’s Stories

July 10th, 2023

Categories: Biography, Curiosity, Fiction, Nonfiction, Story, Strangers

What is he thinking? Wouldn’t it be fun to know?

I love hearing people’s stories. I may have inherited this from my mother. Just one example: In her 80s, Mom would take her book to the lobby or sunroom of a resort and find a comfortable chair. At dinner she would share highlights of some of the other guests’ lives. She’d have chatted only briefly with them that afternoon and often learned curious tidbits.

After a party I’m curious about how guests I don’t know fit a friend’s life. During various rides I learned about one Uber driver’s girlfriend and another’s baby. A Trader Joe’s cashier has relatives in Canada and we spoke about how the fires have impacted his cousins. He was brought up in Columbia, he said, and has lived in NYC since last August. Another young cashier and I discussed what has happened to civility.

In a bus I learned about another passenger’s new squeeze. During the pandemic a passenger asked a woman who was coughing and not wearing a mask to put one on. She told me she was on her way to the hospital for a course of chemo and she didn’t want to catch anything. When she saw my TJ Maxx tote with “BEE KIND” in bold letters another bus passenger told me her grandchildren’s middle name is Bee.

Equally fascinating are people who aren’t interested in stranger’s lives. They’ll shut you down if you begin to share highlights of an interesting relationship or event regarding someone they’ve never met. These same people are often intrigued by fictional characters. [No surprise I like to read biographies.]

Which are you? Curious about strangers or only about people you know?

Bee is the middle name of a fellow bus passenger’s grandchildren.

12 Responses to “Service of Other People’s Stories”

  1. Anonymous Said:

    Personally I always happy to listen. If it makes the person feel better to share why not. No one has ever made me feel uncomfortable with what they’re saying. I tell my friends listening is part of my job description. Sometimes the stranger who shared with me turns into a friend. I call that a happy ending!

  2. Loretta Adams Said:

    Loretta on Facebook: I think he is debating, do I really need these? Will I prepare a nice salad, or will I waste them like last time.

    Yes, I love to hear about other peoples lives, families, etc. i learn much from them.

  3. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Loretta,

    I suspect one reason you have so many friends is because of your interest in other people. And I agree—he is saying “do I need such a big bunch of radishes?”

  4. Loretta Adams Said:

    Loretta on Facebook: ❤️ no matter the age, I enjoy talking to people. Sometimes we are the only people that the other person has to talk with.

  5. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Anonymous,

    I think it may be easier to speak with someone you’ll never meet again, who won’t share a secret with anyone in their circle because you are a stranger.

  6. BC Said:

    I am a born social worker, not by training tho. Like to hear folks’ stories-
    cab drivers, clerks , waitresses , service folks. Most people like to
    tell you about themselves. I ask very gentle questions, like “Tell me
    about your family and where you grew up.“ That always generates a
    conversation.

  7. Jeanne Byington Said:

    BC,

    I suspect you were superb at your profession as you would similarly gently get the information you needed from your patients and their families.

  8. Martha Takayama Said:

    I am interested and curious about other people and their lives. I often find it interesting and pleasant to engage in conversation or listen to strangers or new acquaintances. I am happy if engaging in conversation makes other people happy or cheerful. I feel a little bit sorry for people who cannot look beyond their own selves or the tiniest of circles to be able to share any interest, concern or emotion. Narcissism is quite boring, but then apparently a strangely large number of Americans don’t seem to think so!

  9. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Martha,

    I LOVE to eavesdrop in restaurants or on public transportation. The exception is overhearing half of a loud phone conversation that goes on and on. This happens less and less thank goodness.

    I never equated disinterest in others with narcissism. Something to ponder. It might also be cultural or extreme shyness.

  10. Lucrezia Said:

    Makes no difference who is talking. It’s what they have to say that counts.

  11. Deb Wright Said:

    I am always curious about other people. Each life story is fascinating. Why is the mail carrier, Adam, always cheerful? Why is the cashier so grumpy when usually she is very sociable? People tend to like to talk to me, and I think it is because I am approachable. I won’t initiate a conversation when it is not welcome. However, I do like mysteries and historical novels–fiction, but if they are well-written, I learn about different worlds. So, yes, I am curious about people that I encounter.

  12. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Deb,

    It’s important to know if a stranger or acquaintance wants to chat and not to push it.

    I responded to a review request from CVS about my experience at a branch I visited yesterday. Almost 100 percent of the cashiers at the various branches I tend to visit are fine. Yesterday’s was not. She was on the phone the entire time, paying zero attention to what she was doing, directing me to the credit card gizmo with her wagging finger. I don’t expect anyone to shoot the breeze but I do expect them to focus on their jobs. She did not get a good review.

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