I have a large number of conversations with strangers.
I don’t really mean to. It just happens.
When I was in college, my mentor (who is a psychology researcher) was fascinated by the number of in depth interactions I had with strangers in a given week. She said I was “far above the norm.” She was too nice of a person to tell me what “the norm” was, but I knew enough to know I’m a freak of nature.
I do come by it honestly. My mother is the same way. Once, when I was in high school, I was walking through the grocery store (by myself) and the butcher (a man I’d never met) called my name, waved, and said hello. I was disturbed. I was more disturbed later when I asked my mother about it and she said, “Oh, that’s Bob! What a nice man!”
But, genetic or not, I come across as a friendly person.
So far this week I’ve had separate interactions with two elderly gentlemen: one in the line at the grocery store, who gave me advice on how to cook the pork chops I was putting on the belt, and one at Starbucks, with whom I discussed sailboats and winter and “religious people.”
I didn’t start these conversations.
The first man opened the conversation by asking if I’d read about the Berlin Wall in history class.
I said that I had, and he said, “Betchya never thought you’d meet somebody that was there when she came down, now dijya?”
I replied, “No, sir!”
To which he promptly explained that you don’t say “sir” to a sergeant, because “we’re just workers.”
And I immediately responded, “Yes, sir.”
He also told me a cautionary tale about his wife, who lost a foot to diabetes, and commanded me very seriously to “watch my sugar intake.” I shook his hand, thanked him for his service to our country, and promised to stay off the sweets.
The second man had been sitting at the table next to me in the coffee shop for nearly an hour without saying a word. But as he got up and put on his coat, he said, “Working hard?” At that exact moment I was procrastinating and surfing Facebook in search of a distraction, but I said, “Yes, sir.”
He asked what I was working on, and we talked for a while about the concept of raising financial support, something completely foreign to him.
It turned out that he was from Boston, so we discussed that for quite some time, and how people in Boston judge their content with and their contempt for winter by how much more or less snow they have in Buffalo. Then he wished me a good day and good luck and he left.
Neither interaction led to a relationship that will continue. I don’t even know their names.
Did I intend for them to happen? No.
But were they still worth having? I think so.
Because now I know how to pan sear pork chops and how to reference snow fall to a New Englander. A successful week so far, I’d say.