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Reflections: Conversations With Strangers…

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“We sometimes encounter people, even perfect strangers, who begin to interest us at first sight, somehow suddenly, all at once, before a word has been spoken.” Fydor Dostoevsky

Reflections: Conversations With Strangers...

On a Supermarket checkout line
E: You’ve got quite the selection of cat food there.
She: Yeah… they’re on sale (laughs)
E: My cat loves Fancy Feast. Does yours have a preference?
She: That’s good! I like to buy a few cans of the different brands…
E: I see that. What type of cat do you have?
She: I don’t have a cat…
E: Oh, but you’re buying cat food.
She: Yeah, I buy it as an occasional treat for my show dog… he loves it.
E: Wow! What kind of dog?
She: A Cocker Spaniel
E: How did he get introduced to cat food?
She: I used to have a cat… my ex took him when we split.
E: I see. Does the cat eat dog food? Just joking!
She: Right…funny! What are you? A freaking cop!? (laughs)

What’s the most unexpected thing a stranger has ever said to you? We meet strangers/people all the time but not everyone leaves an impression on us. It usually takes a special conversation, interesting exchange or a moment that stirs something in us emotionally. Sometimes, those exchanges can lead to friendships and that is what makes our world a fascinating place to be. Above and below, I’ve added my recollection of some unexpected turns in a few conversations I’ve had over the years. For the sake of brevity, I am E. 😉  I added poems on the subject by Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson. What unexpected thing has a stranger said to you?

“Happiness grows at our own firesides, and is not to be picked in strangers’ gardens.”  Douglas William Jerrold

Reflections: Conversations With Strangers...

On the Street in Harlem
He: How you doing sister?
E: Fine… and you?
He: I’m good… where you rushing to?
E: em… class. Take care!
He: Wait, wait. Wanna marry me, Honey? You’re a tall drink of water…
E: em… (nervous laugh) Not today!
He: Uh uh… ( roaring laughter)

When I lived and worked in Harlem, I was always engaged in some back and forth banter with people on the street; mostly guys with the funniest pick up lines. The one above stayed with me because the exchange was warm and a tad funny. Plus, I liked that tall drink of water line.

“For me, there are no my people and strangers, no bad people and good people. All people are equal for me.”  Viktor Yanukovych

Reflections: Conversations With Strangers...

To a Stranger by Walt Whitman via
Passing stranger! you do not know
How longingly I look upon you,
You must be he I was seeking,
Or she I was seeking
(It comes to me as a dream)

I have somewhere surely
Lived a life of joy with you,
All is recall’d as we flit by each other,
Fluid, affectionate, chaste, matured,

You grew up with me,
Were a boy with me or a girl with me,
I ate with you and slept with you, your body has become
not yours only nor left my body mine only,

You give me the pleasure of your eyes,
face, flesh as we pass,
You take of my beard, breast, hands,
in return,

I am not to speak to you, I am to think of you
when I sit alone or wake at night, alone
I am to wait, I do not doubt I am to meet you again
I am to see to it that I do not lose you.

I love this poem as it is the perfect ode to a distant lover or stranger, and it captures the lingering, wondering thoughts we have about such matters… Every potent conversation we have with a stranger leaves us with a lingering memory. More below. 😉

“Admiration and familiarity are strangers.”  George Sand

Reflections: Conversations With Strangers...

A Subway Conversation
He: I know you from somewhere…
E: Really? I never forget a face.
He: The Gallery opening on X Street
E: I wasn’t there… Are you sure?
He: Yes, yes… You wore a fuchsia dress.
E: No. I wasn’t there. Have a nice day!
He: Come on, I’m joking… Wanna &*(^)!
E: What!!!?…. Train stops. Door opens. I run off. It’s not my stop.

If You Were Coming In The Fall by Emily Dickinson via
If you were coming in the Fall,
I’d brush the Summer by
With half a smile, and half a spurn,
As Housewives do, a Fly.

If I could see you in a year,
I’d wind the months in balls —
And put them each in separate Drawers,
For fear the numbers fuse —

If only Centuries, delayed,
I’d count them on my Hand,
Subtracting, till my fingers dropped
Into Van Dieman’s Land.

If certain, when this life was out —
That yours and mine, should be
I’d toss it yonder, like a Rind,
And take Eternity —

But, now, uncertain of the length
Of this, that is between,
It goads me, like the Goblin Bee —
That will not state — its sting.

I think the man on the subway was nuts, but maintained a veneer of sanity. Initially, I thought… “How funny!” but his unexpected last line shocked me. That’s life, eh? Full of surprises. What about you? What are your thoughts? What unexpected things have you heard from strangers? How did you react/respond? Do you engage in conversations with strangers often? What memories do you have of them? Do share! Thank you. 🙂

This post was inspired by a prompt from WP Plinky: What’s the most unexpected thing a stranger has ever said to you?

Positive Motivation Tip: At some point, even our friends were strangers. If you find common ground, reach out and connect.

PHOTO CREDITS/ATTRIBUTIONS: All Photos American Cocker Spaniel, Fresh water fountain, Lakhovsky Conversation,  Characters & Caricatures by William Hogarth, via Wikipedia

Until Next Time…
Ask. Believe. Receive. ©
Elizabeth Obih-Frank
Mirth and Motivation
Positive Kismet

54 Comments leave one →
  1. 06/03/2012 1:02 am

    On the Street in Harlem
    He: How you doing sister?
    Me: Fine… and you?
    He: I’m good… where you rushing to?
    Me: em… class. Take care!
    He: Wait, wait. Wanna marry me, Honey? You’re a tall drink of water…
    Me: em… (nervous laugh) Not today!
    He: Uh uh… ( roaring laughter)

    • 06/03/2012 1:16 am

      TY! I thought it was funny too… This was an ongoing thing in the area. The guys always chatting up the ladies in friendly banter… none of it was serious… 😉

  2. 06/03/2012 3:20 am

    I think I’d have got off the train too! Any stop would have done!

    I honestly can’t think of anything to share – Australians are odd like that, we don’t talk to strangers much……. I’m sure I’ve had conversations in pubs with strangers, but too much has happened since for me to remember any of them! 😆

    • 06/03/2012 4:06 am

      Really? I always thought Aussies were the friendliest people… They must initiate it sometimes.. Maybe when they feel a spark? 😉

      • 06/03/2012 11:14 am

        We are a friendly bunch – we just don’t seem to strike up conversation in trains, supermarkets or other public places. Not sure why, it just doesn’t happen much. I think in the coutnry areas it is more commen, but not so much in the cities.

      • 07/03/2012 8:37 pm

        That’s an interesting phenomenon… It’s fairly common to chat up strangers elsewhere; even in stiff-upper lipped England. 🙂

  3. 06/03/2012 3:39 am

    Old friends were once strangers. Nice post! Love the poems!
    Last year I was introduced to a local man who had just lost his wife – and not his sense of humor. The conversation went like this –
    He: Hello. Nice to meet you.
    Me: How nice to meet you!
    He: You’re pretty cute. Can You balance a check book, too?
    Me: Yes, If there’s any money in it!
    He: Marry me!
    Much laughter.
    He: No money left. I just bought a motorcycle.
    Me: You have a bike? What kind?
    He: Honda Gold Wing.
    Me: Marry Me! Oh, sorry, I’m in a committed relationship, with another man, with a Honda.

    The love of my life, who was also once a stranger, said a single sentence to me when I asked how much I owed him for the firewood I stopped to pick up on the way to my campground. All he said was “Just a kind word and a smile.” I said the smile is easy and so is the kind word. Thank You.” We have been together for almost 8 years…

  4. 06/03/2012 3:59 am

    As I read this, I thought, people say all kinds of things to me here. Having a casual conversation is so easy here, probably even easier than in Harlem, where typically it’s mostly the men who’ll strike up a conversation. Here, it’s everyone — men and women. Sometimes it feels so organic, as if we were picking up a conversation we’d started before.
    I used to get a lot in Harlem but when my niece from Florida came to live with me, she didn’t understand it. But I don’t know them, Auntie, she’d say to me. And I’d say, but that’s the point. It’s a way to share a little humanity, to make you smile and is totally harmless. She’s adjusted now.

    • 06/03/2012 4:12 am

      Yes, it’s the same back in the old home country for me too… However, that bantering in Harlem annoyed me in the beginning until I made the effort to understand the underlying message of it… Folk were just reaching out, making connections and building community. Once I got that, it was happy sailing; even when some of the comments were out of line… I would smile, say a quick ‘Have-a-Blessed-day’, and move on. 🙂

  5. 06/03/2012 5:37 am

    I think I have a little sign on my forehead that simply reads, “I’m approachable”–strangers come and talk to me wherever I am. I have had some real “lost souls” find me and tell me their entire life stories. If there are empty seats on the metro-rail, someone will forgo sitting alone, sit down next to me and tell me the most amazing stories–the kind I rarely believe are even true, but for some reason it’s my day to hear them! I no longer question it. It’s been true all my life, and it’s somehow the gift I can give back…I try to be cheerful about that! LOL! Debra

    • 06/03/2012 9:41 am

      Excellent! It happens to me too and we can share them as stories for us to learn from… 🙂

  6. 06/03/2012 7:04 am

    A lot of my friends were strangers once. I suspect that is true of most of us when you stop and think about it.

    • 06/03/2012 7:14 am

      Yes, all of us actually… We meet a stranger and over time they become a friend or maybe, an enemy. TY Orples! 🙂

      • 06/03/2012 7:18 am

        Yep, got a few of those too. But I usually walk away from people that don’t reciprocate and/or might pose a threat to my ‘peace’ of mind in the future. Everyone gets the benefit of the doubt in the beginning though. 🙂

      • 06/03/2012 7:23 am

        Same here… Life is complicated enough without the sirens and savages! 🙂

  7. 06/03/2012 7:11 am

    I love this post. The love of my life was once a stranger to me. It all started when I held a door open for him as he struggled to move a huge table inside without any help. He smiled and said thank you. A few weeks later we had our first date.

    • 06/03/2012 7:16 am

      Beautiful… moving a table is a great visual… We can say we knew he was a strong stranger! 😆

  8. 06/03/2012 7:22 am

    great post! love side convos/ random convos too.

  9. 06/03/2012 7:40 am

    Maybe you should move 🙂

    • 06/03/2012 7:51 am

      Move? From where? Strangers are everywhere and these folk were quite harmless; even that subway guy. I know, you’re joking. 😆

  10. 06/03/2012 9:36 am

    Elizabeth, I must be a tad brain dead. I cannot for the life of me remember any distinct conversations with strangers that stand out. I however can remember the feelings I would and still do have when I am in the presence of an attractive woman. The mysterious question as to WHO SHE IS? Such longing revolves around such a moment. Nice post. If I remember a conversation I wil lpost it.

    • 06/03/2012 9:44 am

      TY Walter! Sometimes conversations come in snatches or via a word that reminds us of a good one… Feelings are great too. 🙂

  11. 06/03/2012 11:48 am

    I sometimes find these types of conversations surprising but usually they are a lovely unexpected addition to the day. I haven’t had one go awry as you have but maybe I haven’t had as many opportunities.
    Keep smiling!

    • 07/03/2012 8:41 pm

      Sometimes our conversations with strangers are surprisingly good.. TY! 🙂

  12. 06/03/2012 12:32 pm

    Loved all of this post. I was just telling some new neighbors, whom I encountered while out walking, about a funny episode that occurred to me on a gorgeous September day in 2011: I had parked in a central, city-owned parking lot as usual to walk around in the business district to complete my errands. As I was walking back to that parking lot, with small bags over each arm, a gentleman approached me and said.”Ma’am, may I offer you a ride back to the group home?” I politely declined, indicating my nearby vehicle. I then asked him, “Sir, just what prompted you to offer me a ride to the group home? I own my own home, by the way.” He answered, “Because you are walking and you have white hair.” Thus, the title of my book-in-progress: “WHITE HAIR WALKING!”

    • 06/03/2012 3:27 pm

      That is funny!

    • 07/03/2012 8:45 pm

      What a riot! At least you had a chance to ask him a question and now you have a book out of it… See? Remarkable! 🙂

  13. 06/03/2012 1:40 pm

    I absolutely love talking to strangers, especially the ones that don’t think they want to talk – they always turn out to be most interesting. I’ll never forget travelling a hundred miles on a bus with a South African guy a few years ago, although I can’t remember the conversation I remember the impact it made.

    • 07/03/2012 8:48 pm

      TY Gilly! It woudl be great if you could write a post on that conversation in SA. You can invent some of the dialogue and create a great book out of it… 🙂

  14. 06/03/2012 1:51 pm

    During our visits to San Francisco, we have noticed how it is quite normal for strangers to strike up conversations with each other. We have enjoyed, and overheard, so many. And not just the “pick up lines” either – I don’t think they really help. Here in Jamaica, people do greet each other on the street, but it’s less common among younger, urban Jamaicans. In rural matters it’s a different matter. People are curious about strangers – and more polite, too.

    • 07/03/2012 8:53 pm

      San Francisco does have some of that New York sensibility and I can see chatting to strangers there… Actually I have. Also, I imagined there would be more banter in Jamaica as there is in Nigeria… The Harlem exchanges were creative, smart and fun… I miss some of that banter. 🙂

  15. 06/03/2012 3:05 pm

    I love friendly banter with strangers. Most of it is harmless and can be quite fun! Of course the guy on the subway is not so much fun.

    • 07/03/2012 8:56 pm

      Friendly banter breaks the ice and introduces us to others; some even become friends. 🙂

  16. 06/03/2012 3:25 pm

    Wonderful post! And I love the photos, too!

    I feel sorry for the dog in the first one, he/she looks so pitiful. It reminds me of the time I pulled up to a stop light and there was a dog in the car next to me with white cones on his ears. It was a black Doberman, and had apparently just came from having his ears clipped (or whatever they call it!). He looked funny, especially the contrast of white against his shiny black fur, but I felt sorry for him.

    Conversations with strangers is an interesting topic, and you’ve had some very interesting ones 🙂 Here’s a couple of mine from the grocery store:

    (This was about a product I don’t use)
    Them: Do you know where the ________ is?
    Me: No, I don’t. Sorry.
    Them: It should be in this aisle, but I can’t find it.
    Me: I haven’t seen it.
    Them: I thought I bought it here before, but maybe it was at ___________.
    Me: I don’t know, maybe you could find a store employee to ask about it.

    (This was a cashier)
    She: Where did you find this (product)?
    Me: It was in the ___________ aisle.
    She: I didn’t even know we had this!
    Me: I’ve bought it several times here.
    She: Do you like it?
    Me: Um, yes. (Why would I buy it if I didn’t?)

    Hmmm…I haven’t checked Plinky prompts lately.

    • 07/03/2012 9:01 pm

      This is a riot! You should write on the Plinky prompt and add this to yours… If we stop to think about it, we have some funny conversations going on in our lives… I enjoyed writing on this topic and could do more but I’m saving it for other stuff. 🙂

  17. 06/03/2012 5:01 pm

    “What’s the most unexpected thing a stranger has ever said to you?”
    It happened on a Sunday morning a few weeks ago. My husband was driving and I was sitting in the passenger seat of our car. I had my window down and my camera strapped around my neck. As my husband stopped at a red light, a stranger in the very nice SUV next to us rolled down his window and asked me if I would take his photo. I took his photo as quickly as possible… before the light turned green. There wasn’t much time for a conversation. I remember thanking the stranger, who was smiling from ear to ear, before he turned right and we proceeded straight across the intersection.
    It was unexpected, as a complete stranger has never asked me to take a photo of them while stopped at a stoplight. And, I’m the one usually asking strangers if I can take their photo.

    • 07/03/2012 9:05 pm

      That is a remarkable exchange… I wonder what he was thinking! 😆 I would have wanted a copy for my files… That is a beautiful story. TY! 🙂

  18. 06/03/2012 7:04 pm

    Funny – running off the subway but not your stop!
    This was the most recent: I was in a doctor’s office waiting room, no makeup, hair was quickly pulled back, in sweats (I think). An elderly man walked by me, stopped, did a double take, looked right at me and said, “you have beautiful eyes.” Then went off to find a seat in the room. This stranger made me smile.

    • 07/03/2012 9:07 pm

      What a treat at the dr’s office… That is so sweet! Yep, I jumped ship to get away from that guy. 😉

  19. 06/03/2012 8:05 pm

    The most memorable of my recent contacts with strangers would have to be the “mall hugger” I wrote about whom I didn’t really know but saw often when I’d go to get my tea. He just decided to include me among his ‘victims’ at the mall and that was the end of that! Who could argue?

    I’ve never really felt comfortable with the small talk amongst strangers, although I’ve engaged in my fair share over the years. It never quite ‘fits’ for me, especially when it goes awry like it did for you on the subway… I’ve had weird encounters like that before and it is a bit unsettling. Even so, I think human nature is basically good and most people can have a nice little bonding chat over the weather. 🙂

    • 07/03/2012 9:10 pm

      I enjoyed the post on the mall hugger! I’m not adverse to some chitchat with a stranger and have had my share on public transportation in NYC. It is a nice bonding moment. 🙂

  20. 07/03/2012 7:12 am

    I talk to strangers all the time . . . and some of them are strange, indeed. 😉

    • 07/03/2012 9:13 pm

      Exacto! Some are warm and angelic and some are scary. 🙂

  21. 07/03/2012 7:16 am

    I don’t normally talk to strangers although I don’t snub them either. When someone greets me, I greet back then look away or go back to what I was doing. Here’s something I received in a card in 1976:

    “It could have been that we were just two faces in a crowd. But now, everything is changed forever with a smile. Now we’re not just faces. We’re people. ”

    This came in a card that was attached to some roses. The roses were sent by someone who became a friend for the next 8 years. Then on the 9th year, we got married. I still have the contents of the card memorized. Funny huh?

    • 07/03/2012 9:16 pm

      See… even our friends, lovers, partners were strangers once… That is a beautiful story you shared. TY! 🙂

  22. 07/03/2012 3:03 pm

    I love this blog… including the great photos…did feel terribly sorry for the dog 🙁

    • 07/03/2012 9:18 pm

      Yeah, the dog looks a bit sad but he is at a show and they tied up his ears to keep it tidy… TY for your feedback. 🙂

  23. 08/03/2012 5:11 am

    I mainly met strangers on the web through my blog… and I don’t regret it! 🙂 Outside too but it’s not the same… Here strangers can quickly become friends!

  24. 08/03/2012 7:52 pm

    I talk with strangers whenever the opportunity presents itself…

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