Making Conversation with Random People
It is an experience familiar to just about anyone who has ever traveled, taken a bus, sat on a bench, or strolled down the street. Sometimes, strangers will talk to you. And sometimes, they will start conversations with you. Sometimes they will tell you a lot about themselves, even more than you ever wanted to know. I Talk to Strangers is a book about a person like this.
This unusual, surprisingly honest book by Carole Chandler takes you inside one of these encounters. In “I Talk to Strangers” Chandler describes her personal experience making conversation with random people she encounters in her travels, and the strange, open, straightforward and often revealing conversations she has with these people.
Chandler’s story of the average conversation with a stranger is more than just relatable. The stories take encounters that are typically forgotten and turn them into book-worthy tales.
Excerpt from the book:
By Carole Chandler
It was a bumper day for talking to strangers, just like the day before and the day before that and the day before that. It seems that every day is special, every day is a new adventure, every day is fun. I live in a busy vibrant area of south west London and have learned to accept that talking to strangers is something that I do. I have no need to encourage the conversations and I continue to be amused by people’s willingness to chat. Sit back, relax, and join me in a few memories of when I talked to strangers and they talked to me.
I feel like beginning with an encounter about a lady that I met at a bus stop in London. I noticed her beforehand as I was walking along the road. Way ahead of me, way down the road, her hair caught my attention. Swaying with a life of its own, her golden, shoulder length, straight hair moved like a piece of satin floating in the breeze.
I was a long way behind and as I enjoyed watching her hair, I remembered a couple of times when I have seen beautiful hair in the street and followed the urge to express my delight to the owner. Thankfully they have never seemed to mind and I am always grateful for it because it is not nearly so much fun paying compliments that are not well received. It is like offering a gift and having it rejected.
Anyway, the wafting satin crossed the road ahead of me and disappeared out of view, so I turned my attention to something else. When I arrived at the bus stop, there was the hair again. Now she was standing next to me and I felt the urge to say something. I knew that I did not have to. I could have just as easily kept my thoughts to myself. The urge got the better of me, as I concluded that I may never see her again and there was nothing to lose.
Standing beside her I said, “Excuse me.” She continued to look ahead, no response, no response at all. I tried again. “Excuse me.” With the second attempt, she glanced towards me, smiled, flicked her hair back and removed her earphones.
“Oh sorry, I didn’t hear you with my earphones in, were you talking to me?”
Well that explained her previous lack of response. I was overjoyed to see that she was happy to stop her listening and interact with me.
“I’m sorry to interrupt you, but I just wanted to say that I noticed your beautiful hair from way down the road.”
“Oh really, thank you. I’ve just straightened it otherwise it looks terrible.”
“Surely not, well it looks gorgeous today. It really caught my attention as it floated from side to side when you walked. She thanked me again so I continued,
“It looks like satin swaying in the breeze and even on a cloudy day like today, with no sun, your hair was shining.”
“Oh, it’s so kind of you to say that, you’re so sweet.”
“I’m just inspired to say what I feel.”
I Had said all I wanted to say and expected her to return to her listening but no. She continued by telling me how she washes and straightens her hair daily, even though it is quite a commitment but she feels it is necessary because she prefers that way. I gently offered the option of leaving it natural and she agreed that if she did, she would probably get used to it. On occasions when she has previously grown tired of the morning routine, she tried to get used to the curls and the frizz but never felt entirely happy.
The stop is served by two routes and without knowing where I was going, she told me that we had just missed one but she did not know about the other. I told her that I had walked from about four stops away and had not seen one, so I felt confident that it would arrive soon. This of course added to my amusement because I could have easily waited for a bus at any of the earlier stops, thus saving myself the walk, or indeed might have walked all the way which is what I usually do. Either way I would have missed out on the fun of our conversation.
By that point I guessed our chat was at an end and once again I fully expected her to return to er earphones. I was wrong.
“I’m all out of breath because I’ve got a deviated septum and it makes it hard for me to breathe. I’m due to have an operation so hopefully I won’t get so breathless.” Though unexpected, it was nice of her to share this information with me. Her nose looked perfect, she did not look like an amateur or professional boxer, or indeed someone who might have been involved in a pub brawl, so with vague interest I asked,
“How come it’ a problem now, hasn’t it always been like it?”
“No, not really, I’ve had two operations but it’s not brilliant. The hospital has agreed to do it again but can’t guarantee it will be successful. It’s really a problem when I walk quickly and I like walking because it feels so good.”
I agreed with her that walking is great exercise and suggested that she might perhaps try walking slower but she said that then it feels like she is not really doing anything. When I said that walking is beneficial at any speed she laughed and pointed out that had she had been walking slower that morning, then her hair would not have moved the same way. I followed up with the realization that her hair would have indeed looked different, then a random stranger would not have stopped to talk to her at the bus stop and we would not have been enjoying our conversation.
She added that she also had breathing difficulties because she was just getting over a cold. With that she stepped back and said,
“Don’t worry, I won’t give it to you.”
In turn, I told her not to worry because I would not catch it anyway. I used to catch colds all the time but not anymore.
“Oh, you’re lucky.”
“It’s not luck. I have changed my life to make it so.”
“What did you do? Was it food, did you start eating the right foods?”
I Told her that I Have always eaten pretty well, so do not really concentrate on it. When she asked again, I confessed that the main thing I did was reduce my stress.
“Really? Was that what you did?”
“Well yes, stress reduces your ability to fight off infections, it leaves you open to catching things.”
When she said that she thought I might be right, I felt inclined to say not ‘might’ but decided to let it go. I shared with her that I used to have regular chest infections a few times a year. They were of great severity, reducing my ability to function and live my life comfortably. This was my normal until a few years ago. Now not even a sniffle.
She said, “I supposed people do have stress but I don’t have any, I don’t worry about money, I’m fine.”
Interesting that she chose to say that, who mentioned money? I have learned to take little notice of people who claim to be free of stress when their physical expression indicates otherwise. I remember a client who was emotional and seemingly close to tears, insisting he had no stress in his life and volunteered to tell me that his mother had recently died and he was daily visiting his best friend who was terminally ill in hospital. No stress? Really?
The bus stop lady continued, “Sometimes I think I might not have enough to pay a bill or a credit card, or I might be concerned about paying off my loan, or not have enough to pay my rent or something like that.”
“You said you don’t worry about money but those are all financial concerns.”
She continued, “And I’m unemployed at the moment so that doesn’t help.”
“That’s another stressor.”
“Oh, I”ve just been diagnosed with arthritis, so that doesn’t help.”
“That’s another stressor.”
“Then there’s my hair. I have to get up really early to straighten it every day.”
“That’s another stressor.”
Woah! Not a bad list for someone with no stress. No wonder she had a cold. She thought that perhaps I was right to mention the link and had remembered reading something about that somewhere. She had given me a lot of information in a short space of time. I should not have been surprised, I have experienced this before. I offered my perspective that she seemed to be experiencing a lot to occupy her attention and perhaps stress was a contributory factor in her ‘catching’ a cold. I pointed out that thoughts about her bills, such as if and how they will be paid, is worrying about money. She reflected and agreed. I felt no need to say any more. I felt no need to hear any more. She had made the connection herself.
It may seem that we were stranded at this bus stop for hours but really no, we were there just a few minutes. The bus came. As I boarded, the handsome smiling face of the driver was a momentary distraction.
As lively and as lovely as it was, I had no expectation of continuing my conversation with the silken haired lady on the bus. The bus was busy, I chose a place to stand, and she chose to stand beside me. I did not expect her to, it was nice that she did but I did not mind either way. We talked about hair again, her hair, my hair, her friend’s hair, the cost of hairdressers and the frequency of treatments. We talked and laughed. Our journey was most entertaining. I enjoyed her company and she clearly enjoyed mine as when we arrived at her stop, she was sad to leave. How lovely to share a fond farewell with an acquaintance of such short duration. Life is sweet.
Carole Chandler is a resident of London, England, and enjoys writing in adition to dancing, painting, walking, meditating and eating…plus talking to strangers. She is also a practitioner of Reiki and massage.