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10 August, 2008

Talking to strangers can be interesting

...Sensitivity, sense of humor helpful

In case you haven't already noticed, I'm an odd sort. I like to speak to perfect strangers -- in stores, on the street, just about anywhere. What is so strange about this is the fact that I used to be extremely shy and reluctant to even acknowledge the presence of others, often looking the other way in order to avoid eye contact.

I really do not know how to explain the change in my personality other than the realization that as we mature we become more comfortable in our skin and we tend to open up and reach out more. I honestly feel that you do not have to know a person to speak to them as long as it is a light-hearted comment accompanied by a smile and a twinkle in the eye.

More often than not people react favorably to my unsolicited invasions. Surprise, at first, is generally followed by a smile and a few words of response. Of course I pick my targets carefully. I like to speak to young and old alike, people with frowns on their faces, people who appear to be deep in thought, people who are handicapped in some way. The payoff for me is to see someone relax, if only for a moment, and make the all-important person-to-person contact that is so lacking in many lives today. For instance, while in a cash-out line ahead of a First Nation couple, I happened to comment on the weather and made a reference to some high calorie food I had in my basket, adding: "Of course you folks are so slim and trim you don't have to worry about that." They laughed. When I left I heard the man say to the woman: "He was a nice guy, wasn't he!"

Of course reaction is not always favorable. The other day I was exiting Foodland grocery store with a cart full of groceries when a woman in her 50s came racing around the corner. Her body was going in one direction and her mind in another. I pulled my cart to a halt as she did a quick side step, narrowly avoiding a collision. "We've got to stop bumping into each other like this!" I laughingly commented. She stopped abruptly, removed her sun glasses and looked me square in the face for an uncomfortable few seconds. "I don't know you," she said as she turned on her heels and disappeared into the store.

A few days later I stopped off at Hi-Berry Farm to pick up a few items. I couldn't help but notice a middle aged couple painstakingly picking over a large counter of raspberries. It was my invitation to reach in front of them and randomly pick out a box of beautiful berries with a "there I think that I got the best one". Then it was over to the green beans a few minutes later and there they were again deliberating over each bean that they examined individually. As before, I reached in and scooped up a handful saying: "By golly, I think that I got the best ones again." The man (I think he may have been a retired farmer or police officer) turned and growled at me: "Are you just about through?" Some people just do not have a sense of humor.

It seems like I'm always buying food. I was at a diary case one day recently when I was joined by a neatly dressed older woman (she was older than me so that qualified as "old"). I could not help but detect a very pleasant aroma, prompting me to comment boldly: "You smell very nice today!" With a sweet smile she replied: "Thank you. It's Alfred Sung."

Sometimes responses are not only spontaneous but delivered with humor equal to mine. "How do you kiss your boy friend? I asked a young Kentucky Fried Chicken attendant sporting four protruding lip piercings. "Very carefully," was her surprise answer.

The one that really gave me cause to reconsider the consequences, however, involved a cute little girl and her mother. As they approached me on the sidewalk I noticed that the child was lagging behind her mother by quite a few yards. As little three and four year old girls do, she was pausing every few steps to adjust the dress on a doll she was carrying. As I passed her I said: "That is a very pretty dress on your doll." "Thank you," she said. "Her name is Cathy."

Continuing on my way, I heard the mother ask in a firm voice: "What did we say about talking to strangers?"

"He wasn't a stranger," the little one replied matter-of-factly.

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