As children, we were often told to never talk to strangers because it’s dangerous. And I remember being frequently scolded by my parents for disobeying. I was caught many times — in school, in the market, in grocery shops, department stores — talking to strangers both young and old. I don’t know but even at a young age, I prefer to smile and say hello or something rather than just staying silent. With the innocence of children, they won’t really understand the different intentions of strangers for being nice. So I could definitely understand that it’s a very sound advice for children not to talk to strangers.
Not very much so with adults though. Talking to strangers is one of the few most relaxing and interesting thing I do when I’m alone.
The first reason why I genuinely find it interesting talking to strangers even when I was a child was because I grew up from a small family and not very close with our relatives. We also didn’t have neighbors whom we can play with when we were children so I only spend time with my two brothers, not that they’re not interesting enough to be with, they’re both very cool actually, but I always thought that there are far more things I can know and learn about if I talk to others and more often than not, they happen to be strangers.
I also like talking to strangers for the simple reason that I hate waiting. Waiting for friends who come late at the scheduled meeting time, waiting for my order to arrive when I dine out alone, waiting in long queues, waiting for my turn in banks or other offices. Waiting is boring so I always bring a book with me but sometimes why not talk with someone instead until it’s your turn to approach the counter or until your friends arrive? I mean, time flies faster when there’s someone to talk to, right?
When I was a freshman in the university and was working part time in a fast food restaurant, we had this customer who eats the very same thing — rice, hotdogs and eggs with hot chocolate— every Monday morning. He is good-looking but he never smiled. He always carries a blue backpack and always reads a book while he eats. Strangers like this guy appear to me as riddles waiting to be solved. They’re irresistible. Why does he eat the same thing at almost the same time every Monday morning? Why doesn’t he smile? What other books have he read? Who is his favorite author? Etc. Etc. One rainy morning, he came again and for the first time, he came to my counter. He said hello. I think I was smiling wide to my ears when I said, “Hi! Good morning. One hotdog meal with hot chocolate for dine-in?” He smiled back. We dated for the next couple of years.
Moreover, a stranger is not my phone, nor my laptop or PC. So talking to someone I don’t know is a way of taking a break from gadgets. A break from work-related or the usual phone calls or text messages. A break from my typical work day. A smile and some small talk with a stranger often recharge my energy.
For the past fifteen years or so, I’ve experienced happily talking to strangers while travelling. When I travel, I always spend a good amount of time in parks and cafes to read, write and people-watch. The fun thing about it is you’ll never know who you’d happen to sit right next to, or who would happen to sit next to you.
Sometimes I feel like I’m a stranger to someone and I feel they’re interested to talk to me, too. The first time I visited Hanoi, I get to meet some students in the park surrounding Hoan Kiem Lake, who are working on a project about what tourists like the most about their country. They basically asked to interview me to which I delightfully obliged. While I was hiking my way up to the Monastery in Petra, I was offered a marriage proposal! Ha! That could make for another post. 🙂 When I was in Qatar, I’ve met a British guy in the library as we happen to be looking for the same books. While in a tram in Georgia, I’ve met a Kuwaiti family who happens to be very nice to me. I’ve also met several others in clubs and restaurants. It’s funny actually because I’ve met more Kuwaitis in Georgia in four days than in my nine years of working in Kuwait. 🙂 I’ve also met people from different walks of life and with all sorts of life experiences. I’ve met a wealthy businessman while exploring the monastery and caves of Vardzia, an Australian guy who gave up his job to travel and was so curious about the “Happy Pizza” in Siem Reap, expats earning a living in Doha, poor villagers who don’t have any idea how much money tourism makes out of the attractions in their country but are only very grateful that you visited their place and so much more.
I’m a big fan of solo travel but it doesn’t really feel like I’m traveling alone because of the many strangers I get to talk to. Having an unexpected travel buddy (or buddies) from time to time is rewarding. And it’s even more interesting if these buddies are different from me. They help me realize how much of a bubble I actually live in. I learn new things from them. They help me broaden my view of the world.
I also get to have the deepest and the most meaningful of conversations with strangers. When I first arrived in my hotel in Amman, I’ve met two women (one from Palestine and one from Syria) and a man from Saudi Arabia right there in the lobby. We instantly clicked and that same afternoon went on a road trip to As-Salt, had dinner, smoked shisha, shared each other’s life stories like as if we’ve known each other for a very long time. I was then mending a broken heart from a seven-year relationship and the Syrian lady just broke up with her boyfriend the day before. The other lady just broke an engagement while the guy recently got dumped. A group of brokenhearted humans basically. That’s a very unforgettable day. Four souls with shattered hearts formed a friendship like no other.
I don’t know but I often find it easier to open up to strangers, it’s cathartic telling them my deepest feelings. Or probably because I won’t see them again anyway! Ha! Or maybe because they tend to be more objective? Bottom line is, there’s something strangely satisfying talking to people I don’t really know. That’s how I feel, at least.
Strangers have too much to offer us. Each has a unique story to tell. And when we keep our minds open to encounters with strangers, we learn about them and they teach us something in return. Some encounters could even be life-changing. Who knows, right? Some stay for a while, some stay longer. But either way, they serve us a purpose that helps us evolve into better people.
Happy day, Homo sapiens! 😊