Service of Attacking the Blues by Chatting with Strangers

July 4th, 2024

Categories: Birthday, Hello, Strangers, The Blues, Uncategorized

The day I shot this was the delivery man’s birthday.

I’ve made a conscious effort of saying nice things to select strangers on the street and other places to counteract the blues fomented by current political turmoil and strife. I’ve always remarked on adorable dogs—all of them are, even the ugly ones. Sometimes dog owners thank or smile and other times they walk on without comment. Maybe they didn’t hear me or were in a rush or they don’t speak English or are a dog walker and not invested in the pooch at the end of the leash.

I’ve discovered that speaking up cheers me. I try to make the gloomiest looking cashiers smile—if not laugh. It often works.

Warning in NYC: You must be prepared for no response or reaction.

Yesterday I said, “beautiful day,” to a young man who was unloading a bunch of packages from his truck to fill a giant container on wheels slated for delivery to apartment buildings. He replied with a brilliant smile saying, “It is! And it’s my birthday!” so I was able to wish him a happy one and we both parted delighted.

I took a photo of the two men at the bottom of the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

People holding the SLOW or STOP signs at construction sites often appreciate a smile or a “hi.” There’s a ton of building going on in these parts.

The city is crawling with tourists, many non-English speaking. Should you want to make most of them happy, if you see one of them taking a photo of the other in front of the clock at Grand Central or at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, for example, they’ll jump at the chance to have you snap a shot of both of them. The only time I was curtly refused was by an American. I didn’t think I looked intimidating.

I used to let it pass but I’ve become bolder when I see someone approach and I wait–and hold open the door and they neither nod nor thank. I speak up if they are teenagers or older. And if they don’t look scary, I say, “you’re welcome.” Then, under my breath, I wish them a crummy day.

Do you speak with strangers? Does a happy reaction cheer you up?

One of the many construction sites within easy walking distance of my apartment.

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11 Responses to “Service of Attacking the Blues by Chatting with Strangers”

  1. Nancie Steinberg Said:

    Nancie on Facebook I love friendly random encounters.

    Funny you should mention.. Yesterday a FedEx delivery guy was struggling with a toppling and staggering load of packages on a corner of Park Avenue South..at the curb several boxes fell when he attempted to cross -a few good Samaritans picked up the boxes 📦and I held the handle of the hand truck to steady it as he rearranged his load-it felt good to help. It was like Jenga game. I offered to walk with him but he pointed across the street to the truck on opposite side and magically a worker appeared to take some boxes. I was relieved!

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Nancie,

    Wonderful story. Go New Yorkers!!!

    I love giving directions to tourists studying their Google or Apple Maps on their phones as once they did paper ones. I’ve been so grateful when people have helped me I want to return the favor.

  3. Nancie Steinberg Said:

    Nancie on Facebook: I do that too and I am often asked for directions 🧭

  4. Francine Ryan Said:

    Francine on Facebook: You are so right! Even a smile, when directed at another person, has the automatic reaction of them smiling back

  5. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Francine,

    And sometimes I may not realize I was smiling at a happy thought or funny remark remembered —until they smile back!

  6. Larry Kay Said:

    Larry on Facebook: A certain uncle of yours was a past master at chatting with strangers and generating happy outcomes. Actually, a certain cousin-in-law of yours, who shared the same name as your uncle, was no slouch at this either. 

  7. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Larry,

    His sister could chat with a doorknob.

  8. Larry Kay Said:

    Larry on Facebook:

    That family had the gift.

    I remember Bob and I visiting your mom in Paris. How the 20-something year old waiters lit up when conversing with her!

  9. Martha Tepper Takayama Said:

    This is simply a delightful, uplifting posting! I think it can definitely lift one’s spirits to have
    unexpected encounters, even very brief ones, with people and pets outside our home environments.
    I also always remark on adorable dogs as long as they are not intimidating. Sometimes I engage a little bit more. If the owner and dog are receptive and really charming
    I may even inquire if they live nearby or walk in the area frequently hoping to see the pet again.
    I always try to be pleasant, in particular to the help in the supermarket next door.
    I made a friend on The Ride, the public transportation service for those with need of assistance just from chatting.
    I have even told some of the drivers or other service people who are very thoughtful about this blog!

    Bostonians have different idiosyncratic behavior from New Yorkers.We tend to be more receptive to exchanges with strangers. (The weather or transportation is always a topic.)

    Like you I react with frustration or annoyance to the rudeness of strangers and may occasionally say, “you’re welcome.”
    I definitely mutter about them under my breath.

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Martha,

    I suspect NYC has a more diverse population than Boston and that speaking with strangers might be anathema to pedestrians from some cultures …in any case, my mother used to speak regularly with other bus passengers, and I rarely do these days. We had memorable chats with taxi drivers. No longer. Many can hardly understand the address. Often, they are on their phones for the ride.

  11. Jeanne Byington Said:

    An addendum:

    The day after I posted this–today, actually–my bus driver waved and smiled back at me when I gave him the thumbs up and waved as I crossed the street in front of his stopped vehicle. Made me feel happy.

    On the same day a mother with three tweens stopped me near Fifth Avenue and 39th Street asking me where Bryant Park was. Her English was good but not her maiden tongue. She looked relieved upon learning she was almost there. It is hot today and the air quality wanting after the fireworks left particulate matter over the city.

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