“Never in my life have I seen someone so chitchat with cashier staff.”

– Akemi today on my propensity for engaging retail staff in conversation.

It happens a lot at Whole Foods whenever the cashier gives us the option of getting ten cents off our total or making a contribution to charity (for bringing in our own reusable shopping bag because Akemi always remembers).  I always go with the donation and am invariably offered three possible charities.

“Who’s winning?”I always ask.  Not that I’m really curious because I already know the answer.  The animal charity is winning.  It’s always winning.  And any charity to do with cycling is always losing.  It should come as absolutely no surprise that people love puppies and kittens, and despise cyclists.  Giving money to support cycling projects is akin to donating the money to juvenile offenders or telemarketing companies – except that juvenile offenders and telemarketing companies don’t occasionally veer into your lane, block you from making right turns, or sail through red lights assuming you’ll stop.

And it’s not just retail staff.  I’ll talk to anyone: fellow customers, taxi drivers, those people standing in line to use the bathroom.

“I thought he was your Stargate friend.”

She makes this assumption a lot.  I’ll talk to someone for a little while and then, as my conversation partner heads off, she’ll ask: “Who was that?”

And I’ll often shrug and say: “I dunno.”   Or, maybe, “Phil” or “Tom” or “Henrietta” if the person offered their name AND I happen to still remember it seconds later (an admittedly rare occurrence).

I suppose that, in Japan, social interaction with strangers is considered unusual, if not frowned upon – although, from my limited experience, Japanese retail staff are surprisingly receptive to the odd (in both senses of the word) attempt to engage them in conversation, possibly due to a number of reasons: professional courtesy, genuine delight, or sheer terror.  I can’t wait to continue this social experiment when I hit Tokyo and Osaka late next week.  And I’m sure Akemi will be thrilled.

Am I unique?  What say you?  Do you ignore that age-old advice and actually “talk to strangers”?


37 thoughts on “September 1, 2014: Talking to Strangers!

  1. You are not alone! I’ve chatted with all sorts of strangers for over 50 years. My parents taught me when & where it might be appropriate. I remember them as good converstionalists, but they also cautioned me along the way.

    Then I married an introvert…

  2. I’m very chatty in stores, not only with the cashiers but with others in line as well. But in large group social situations I am very introverted.

  3. I talk to people I don’t know all the time. It is how my parents acted and the strangers don’t treat it as strange.
    A few weeks ago we spent the day in Vancouver by car. From that experience I can see why people in Vancouver despise cyclists.

  4. I have spent many years embarrassing my children by talking to strangers everywhere. Grocery lines, gas stations, libraries – I get frowny looks from other patrons – any where there are a couple of people. What good is being a parent if you can’t embarrass your children? They did it to me all the time. Now I get the joy of watching my kids embarrass their children. lol

  5. I talk to strangers all the time – find it easier than talking to people I actually know.

    It started when I was a wee lass. The first documented incident took place when we went on a trip out west, to Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico. Not sure what state we were in at the time, but we were in a sort of gift shop, and there was this old Indian man sitting inside, and I wandered away from mom (I was 4-years old) and walked up to the old Indian and queried, “Are you gonna scalp me?” Mom overheard me and was HORRIFIED that I would say such a thing, and apologized all over herself, but the old guy was cool about it, and he got up, put his hand to his mouth and made that ‘woo-woo-woo’ Hollywood war cry sound and proceeded to chase me all around the store, much to my giggling delight.

    Then I went to school and became even more withdrawn, unable to talk to strangers such as store clerks and waitresses (mom had to order my meals for me until I was about 17). Then I graduated school and did a complete 180, and became so socially outgoing that I’ve actually become quite obnoxious (“help I’m talking and I can’t shut up!”). Not at home, mind you – at home I’m still rather quiet, but out in public – or around people I’ve just met or don’t know well – I can talk the head off a penny.

    I talk to fellow customers in stores, to the bank and post office clerks, to cops (I love cops – ALWAYS start the convo off with ‘I didn’t do it!…Okay…mebbe I did…”), to people walking past my house, to customer service people on the phone (I’ve probably gotten people fired because I’ve been known to tell a customer service person my entire life story during a phone call to figure out why my phone/satellite dish isn’t working…:P ).

    It’s such a bad habit that when I go out to run errands – whether from home or from work – I am always instructed by others, ‘Don’t get talking to people!’…and if my errands run a bit long, on returning I’m always greeted by the question, ‘Who did you get talking to now?’ In my defense, my mother AND husband are both guilty of the ‘talk to strangers’ thing, mom more so than my husband (he doesn’t talk to strangers as much as talk to people he knows…and he pretty much knows EVERYone… 😛 ).

    And yet…I’ve always considered myself extremely shy. I attribute my chattiness to social anxiety…or insanity. Not so sure which these days. I’ve always thought that I would be happy just traveling around the country, never settling down or making good friends, but just meeting people and then moving on…sort of like one-night stands, only on a non-sexual level.

    And yet…I’m quite the homebody and resist change. So…I want to be a homebody gypsy who wants to travel while staying in the same place. I’ve always said I’m an oxymoron…or, perhaps, just a moron.

    Pretty much leaning towards the latter these days… 😛


  6. PS – I pretty much meant what Kathy C said…only not quite so succinct. 😛


  7. I use to work with a long distance cyclist. (85 miles round trip) Whatever you do, don’t hit them. You will always be judged in the wrong and they will sue you. No matter they are in a group slowing traffic, or riding 6 feet from the curb. Don’t hit them. I think they are daring you to do something, then they will sue your butt off.

    I will talk to strangers. People seem to like to talk to me for some reason. Maybe because I look like a nice person. 🙂 They also like to pick me out to approach for money.

  8. Stephen King once wrote a story about teaching and how it was scarier than anything he could write. His characters included the class of the living dead and “the thing that would talk to anything.” That’s me… buses, airplanes, restaurants, checkout lines… Yep… I talk to anyone that will talk.

  9. Re: Talking to strangers.

    It depends on location and mood. Around my home town I’ll usually engage people in small talk, but sometimes while traveling I just want to get where I’m going. That being said, I’ve had some great and interesting conversations on airline flights.

    And today I had an interesting conversation with an elderly lady in my dad’s hometown who remembered my dad and his high school football games from 58 years ago. It probably helped that my dad’s high school (Emanuel County Institute) is known for quite a few Georgia state football championships. I wish I could have taken in Friday night’s ECI football game, but due to Atlanta traffic, we arrived too late.

    Tomorrow we head to Savannah (actually Tybee Island), but I’ll be spending a few days running around Savannah proper. I plan to be more of a tourist this time around and take a load of pictures.

  10. “Don’t talk to strangers” has been deprecated. Children are now told to beware of “tricky people”. The idea is that if a child is lost, engaging a stranger quickly is the best bet.

  11. My wife is like that she can strike up a conversation with anyone myself i tend to keep to myself.

  12. I don’t usually as I’m pretty shy around people, but my dad did all the time and I could never figure out how he did it so easily.

  13. I’ve found that one of the best places to chat with complete strangers is while being an extra on some sort of film/TV production. This has to do with the fact that A) you’re all stuck there for probably 12 hours or so with little else to do, and B) pretty much no one knows anyone else, unless they’ve been doing the extra thing long enough to know some of the other regulars, so you’re all kind of on equal footing. If anyone likes to meet and chat with new people, they should definitely check out extra work, especially in LA. I’m an introvert, and even I quite enjoyed it.

  14. It’s funny, I wouldn’t have pegged you for a chit-chatter at all. You seem somewhat easily annoyed by stupid people, and the odds of running into one while out and about are so high… I would’ve guessed you only talk to fellow dog owners. Or fellow sci-fi writers, assuming there’s a secret hand signal you use to identify each other.

    I typically don’t start a convo with strangers unless there is something odd going on. “Is the line for chia seeds always this long?” But if someone else starts, I’m happy to chat.

    Once in Boston our subway car came to a halt between stops, and the lights dimmed. Being a bit claustrophobic at the time, I asked no one in particular, “Is this normal?” But sadly, with Bostonians being unfriendly as hell, no one responded. Luckily it was only a couple of minutes and I wasn’t forced to scream in terror. Now that I recall, while waiting for a bus there, a guy with no teeth proposed marriage. So I guess they aren’t all unfriendly in Boston.

  15. I bet it’d be a longer conversation with a cyclist. If they stopped. In a safe place. And weren’t spitting on your window. Or banging on your vehicle. Especially if you sought for them to obey the ‘vehicular rights on the road’ behaviour that, well, drivers of actual proper vehicles do. Like not running the lights, sailing through lines of pedestrians or having no inclination to slow for junctions, people, or…did I say lights?

    A universal problem, it would appear.

    Having had no interaction with car drivers prior to these behaviours, I wonder how they explain them – now, here, never mind if and when asked on the road.

    So, perhaps they have ‘quasi-vehicular rights on the road’. They take the bits they want and decry others with mere ordinary, undiluted rights. Y’know – non-cyclists.

    Of course, not every cyclist is like this. Not every car driver is an a**hole. There are enough of each. Here, the focus is on those law-unto-themselves characters who feel pumped up, energetic, in a rush you simply can’t get (can you?), and all that is transferred to the momentum of their bikes and bodies. Do not interfere. Or else?

    Police know all this. Local authorities know all this. Cyclists with cameras on their helmets know all this. Yet still it happens.

    What do we need? Cyclists working in retail shops where they stop, smile and listen, especially to those not dropping pennies into the cycling charity bucket (and watching out for any ‘inter-flow’ between buckets).

    Perhaps the funds could be used to put ‘chips’ on bikes that are auto-scanned when they run the lights?! Now there is a cause worthy of some pennies in a bucket. Nation-wide. Internationally.

    I wonder how well cyclists will stick to the point. The poor road behaviour of the few: why do they do it? Why rage against others who point it out?


    1. PJR, I’d chip in to buy chips for bikes, but then, since they don’t think the law applies to them, they’d just buck the law and disable or destroy them.

      If you say something to them when in the process of breaking the law and making themselves dangerous to others, they flip you off and cuss you out. Lovely people, bicyclists.

      My husband and I actually own bikes, but we’ve not been on them in years because of the cult of entitlement and hate that encompasses bicyclists here. I thought it was only in Key West. Appears it’s a North American problem.

  16. @Dasndanger

    “I talk to strangers all the time – find it easier than talking to people I actually know.”



  17. It really depends on the situation. While I don’t talk to sales staff a lot, especially if it appears fairly busy, I do sometimes wind up striking up conversations while waiting in a line or something similar. I usually try to be fairly sensitive to social cues though, so if it appears that the person is not into talking, I quickly back off.

    While I’m out hiking, people tend to be more chatty anyway, and I more often than not strike up a lengthy conversation on trail stuff. That’s my information volunteer mode kicking in, I guess. So basically, I love to chat if people are up for it, but I don’t press it if they don’t look interested.

    Joe, you may want to take your insect repellent to Tokyo!


  18. Bicyclists: GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR Here, the bicyclists are usually those who lost their drivers license because of DUI’s, yet they pretend to be doing it for the environment.Their entitlement attitude is through the roof. The laws don’t apply to them. They go the wrong way on a one-way street, run stop signs, red lights and more. They drive their bikes while intoxicated. They’re a total scourge.

    A drunk bicyclist ran out in front of my husband one morning when he was on his way to work at 5 AM. My husband was on a scooter. My husband was horribly injured, with surgery and a $150,000 hospital bill. Stupid cops didn’t do a drug test on the bicyclist or we’d have qualified for assistance from a state fund for those injured by drunks and druggies. (I saw the cops dash cam – the guy was clearly drunk). The cops wrote him a ticket, which he never paid and never showed up for his hearing. But hey, the guy had a rap sheet as long as my arm.

    Thus to this day, I HATE BICYCLISTS. They are treated here, however, as any other motorist. If they plow into you, they’re held at fault. Bottom line, bicyclists need to understand the tonage rule. It doesn’t matter who’s in the ‘right’. The bigger vehicle ‘wins’. There have been many deaths becauses bicyclists chose to challenge a big vehicle – one in particular when one had her head crushed like a melon by a 14 wheeler mail truck. Youch.

    There…now I got it out of my system.

    Oh, and I talke to strangers all the time. My Mom was always in awe that I could do that. She was very shy. I just made myself when I was young, and then it became easy.

  19. I talk to strangers pretty frequently. Typically about my Jeep. It seems to make people want to talk to me. Much to my wife’s distaste.

    True story on cyclists. I blame pre-indictment Lance Armstrong for the popularity. Everyone thinks they’re a cycling star.

    There’s a cycling event every year that passes my house, and invariably will irritate the shit out of my dog Brandi. Them with their yelling to each other. And the police blocking traffic at the intersection so I can’t get out of my driveway. Assholes. (The cyclists, not the cops.)

    1. JimFromJerssey, sadly, where I live they’re BOTH assholes. The entitled alcoholic and / or drug addicted cyclists and the cops who think they’re too good to do their jobs and, occasionally, murder innocent people as they did here to an innocent 61 year old visitor who allegedly ran a stop sign. They chased him to the beach, pushed his face in the sand where he couldn’t breathe, put TWO knees in his back, and killed him. Of course they deny but hey, that’s what those kind of ‘people’ do.

  20. You have what I refer to as the “gift of gab”, very much like my old roommate. She could talk to anyone anywhere, about anything. No one was a stranger. I on the other hand avoid contact with stranger if at all possible. I have no idea what to talk about. I am very quiet around people I don’t know, but you cannot shut me up with people I feel comfortable with. There are always those people I click with pretty quickly while other’s it has taken 6-8 months before I feel like I can just be myself, and then others I just avoid.

    1. I too have never had a problem talking to strangers, about anything, anytime. My husband says that I can ‘work a room’ like no one he’s ever seen. He’s more shy and finds it hard to do what I do. I didn’t come by it naturally. My mom was shy and I always was a mama’s girl. But when I had my second job at age 18, I found that I had to talk to people and it was part of my job. I learned very quickly how to talk to anyone about anything. My Mom was always amazed after that. Once you do it, it’s easy.

      The odd thing? I truly am not a big fan of people. I’m very political and about half of the people in the US are complete idiots, fools, racists and hate mongers so, it does get to me sometime when I realize that statistically, about 41/2 of every 10 people I see in the store or on the street are easily manipulated nutbags, fearful fools and bigots. As easy as it is to talk to people, there are days when I go about my errands trying to say the least amount to the fewest people possible.

  21. Hm, I’m a chatter, usually I’m explaining to the cashier how to cook some exotic food I’m purchasing.

  22. “I talk to strangers all the time – find it easier than talking to people I actually know.” Same here Das. I’m not sure why but it’s true. Once you figure it out the reason, let me know.

    I can’t wait to continue this social experiment when I hit Tokyo and Osaka late next week. Oh, that would be fun! Of course, half the fun of talking to strangers is their reaction to you. In the South, it’s pretty common to start up conversations with strangers and it’s encouraged. I hear years of stories, especially if I’m walking a dog or have a caged cat. You get to hear all about their pets and such. If it’s a taboo practice in Japan, they might treat you like a piraya though. You’ll be that rude peculiar foreigner they get to fuss about later. Sounds like a win-win!

    What kind of dining plan are you going for in Japan this trip? Fancy molecular foods, noodle shops or something in between?

  23. I’m kind of surprised and appalled at all the bike-hate. I ride my bike for fun, sometimes on the bike paths if they are available and sometimes on roads. I, and the people with whom I ride, follow the rules of the road. Cyclists who are on the street are required to. It’s the law. Yeah, there are some idiots out there. The same ones who are jerks when they are in their cars.

    I’m not a terribly sociable person, but I do chat with cashiers sometimes

    I’m curious, though: do any of you introduce yourselves to the other person?

  24. @tinamarlin – I used to think 4 1/2 out of 10 people are easily manipulated nutbags. Then I became a libertarian and realized I was off by a factor of 2 and that I used to be one of them.

  25. Tam & Das, I totally agree; it is much easier to talk to a stranger than it is someone you know!

  26. BTW, I’m not trying to use collectivist labels myself, but point out that we all hold the views we consider correct. We’d be terrible people if we didn’t. The flip side of that is that everyone else therefore must hold inferior views. One of the biggest manipulations is when people get lumped into categories for the purpose of straw-manning their views so we can be afraid of them and unite to fight them. We so often end up fighting the wrong people and the wrong people are quite pleased with that.

  27. *I mean the right people, the people we should be fighting, are quite pleased with that.

  28. @Sparrow_hawk – There isn’t much anti-cyclist sentiment around here, but I’m sure they’d be at the bottom of the list of charities, too. They’re such a small minority around here and often have their own routes. I bet the more bike-heavy cities have their share of anti-car sentiment, too.

  29. Have to chime in one more time on the side for cyclists. My son, 42, was hit by a car while riding to work on his bike this morning. The car made an illegal left turn across two lanes to hit my son – who was, fortunately, wearing a helmet – and knock him about 10ft. Three people stopped and waited with him for the cops and the EMTs. The cops gave the driver a ticket – I hope it’s for a million dollars! Fortunately, Wes was just bruised and scraped up, but tonight he’s moving very slowly.

    When he was about 16 and riding his bike to school a car came from across the road and chased him down, forcing him up into someone’s yard. Personally, I’m pro-bike and anti-driver. But I guess there are jerks in both camps.

  30. I used to be shy, and then I got a job as a grocery cashier. Many of the customers wouldn’t let me do my impression of a clam. I started talking out of self defense, and found a mostly willing audience for my sense of humour. Haven’t shut up since. Talking to complete strangers, and learning something about someone I didn’t know five minutes ago is fun. If someone stands still long enough to strike up a conversation then they’re fair game.

  31. Talking to strangers turns them into “not” strangers…I’ve been known to stop in the middle of the sidewalk and start jamming with a street musician…which my brother thought was way weird…but it was fun…

  32. Always chit-chat with strangers. Sometimes I hear entire life stories. Sometimes we stay in contact and a new friendship has started. However, when I go up to New York, I find that chit-chatting with strangers is met with suspicion (that you want something from them) or that you are some bizarre alien from a different planet. As you get further out from the city, things get better. Now of course there are exceptions in NYC, but that is what I see when I go back. People in Texas are very friendly.

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