Day 67: Talking To Strangers

OK, so today I decided to try a made-up game…one that I’ve never played before. I was going to see how long I could get a stranger to talk to me. I decided there had to be three rules: I have to be the one to initiate/ speak first. I can’t pick someone who is expecting you to talk to them (store staff, barista, etc.). And lastly, I had to keep it up until I got someone to talk for 10 minutes. That might not sound like a lot, but go ahead and try it. It is.

I chose Barnes & Noble for this little game (I actually was supposed to do this yesterday, but after a half hour of walking around at Barnes I chickened out and went home:). I feel like whenever I’m at Barnes there is always someone that decides to make small talk or at least ask a question, and most are usually very friendly. I was hoping that tonight would be no different.

Let me set the stage. It’s late afternoon on a Friday and Barnes is just starting to pick up. There are quite a few people filling up the tables at Starbucks and many milling around, perusing the book racks and tables. Once I got rid of my friend Matt (who I ran into, and upon hearing my goal, decided he had to follow me around to see the fun), I started doing some perusing of my own.

Of course now there seemed to be no one around. Or maybe that was just my nerves excuse- there was actually the same amount there was before. I walked up to a woman, we’ll call her “Molly”, looking at a book on the “Earth Day” table. “Excuse me, when exactly is Earth Day?” I know, I know- terrible opening. I should’ve spouted off with some fact about how to keep the earth more clean or something. Anyways, After a brief conversation, oh about- 20 seconds, I’d say- Molly was clearly trying to avoid more. I let her off the hook and moved on.

A minute later, I noticed a woman, “Jean”, checking out the lap desks display. I walked over and asked her if she had used them before, pretending to be really interested in them. She was friendly enough, but I could tell she wasn’t at Barnes to talk. I struggled to keep the conversation going. I think I even went as far as mentioning a father’s day gift that I needed (yea, it’s a few months off, but she doesn’t know I’m a procrastinator). Towards the end of our minute conversation she starting to look panicked, as if she couldn’t get away from me fast enough. I took this as my cue, thanked her, and walked away.

It was at this point that I realized I should be timing these conversations. I took out my phone, set up the stopwatch and kept it in my hand. I was feeling a bit more confident now, and noticed two women talking animatedly about a particular book in the fiction literature section. Perfect. I walked over, started my clock, and interrupted them. “Excuse me, I couldn’t help but notice that you seem to know what to read. I’m looking for a book for my sister (lie), who isn’t a huge reading fan (true), but she does like novels (lie)- particularly action and adventure (lie). Would you be able to recommend one?” OK, so I lied! But, it just flowed out! It was like- what does Lindsay Lohan call it on Mean Girls?- word vomit. Well, these lies did the trick because “Jane” started talking about “Outlander”, a novel in the next aisle over. Her sidekick, “Nancy”, picked it off the top of her book pile to show me. Apparently Jane was her personal book shopping assistant, showing her what was good. I said as much, and that started them off again for a minute. I realized our conversation was coming to a close and went for the life-saver: compliments. “I love your coat by the way. Where did you get it?” 10 seconds later, it fizzled. I looked at my clock- only 3 and a half minutes?? Dang!

I was feeling bruised and wounded and decided to take a break and walk over to the music section. That’s when I spotted Jean up ahead, my second conversation. She seemed to be rushing awkwardly down the aisle away from somethi- oh. This was the moment I realized I was that woman. You know, the one you point out to your friend saying, “Don’t look now, but there’s that woman! The one that I told you was just hanging around and wouldn’t stop talking to me?” Oh. My. Gosh. I was that woman! I had become that woman. Voluntarily!

I wanted to sink into the ground and, changing direction, made my way over to the magazine racks to lay low for awhile. About a half hour and two magazine later, I emerged from the racks, my resolve renewed. I picked up two books on Italy, a subject I knew I could talk about if need be, and headed to the comfy chairs. I sat down next to “Milo” and started to read. Only, I wasn’t reading at all. I was checking out the books Milo was reading. Books on Horror movies. I knew I didn’t have a chance talking about horror movies for 10 minutes. I brought my eyes back to my book just in time, as Milo rose from his chair, left his horror books, and walked away. I thought I missed my chance and wallowed in my self-pity, but to my-surprise, Milo returned, and brought two new books with him. Dog books! Jackpot! One was an encyclopedia of dogs and one was a book on boxers. Now, I knew I could talk about dogs for 10 minutes, but getting Milo to talk about the for 10 minutes was a different story. You never know how cold the water is until you get in it, so I took a plunge.

“Are you wanting to get a dog?”

“Well, no, but I love dogs. Do you have a dog?”

“Yep, a golden retriever. How about you?”

“Well, I had two boxers, but one passed away so now I’m wondering about getting another one.”

And the conversation went on…  I had hit the jackpot. Milo and I went on to talk about the dogs we had, have and want. He wants  more boxers, I want a great dane. We talked about grooming and pet care, and he even gave me tips on what food to feed my dog to prevent hot spots (he really new his stuff). And the conversation went on. From kennel expenses to how’d-they-die stories, Milo was an open book.

About 15 minutes later, I started to wind the conversation down, ready to be on my way. We said our farewells and went our separate ways. Oh Milo, if only I didn’t want to look creepy, I might consider asking you to be my Barnes buddy. I hope you find the perfect furry companion for your little boxer.

So… I must say, I probably won’t do this little experiment again. I mean, I love meeting new people, but this just wasn’t my cup of tea. It is very intimidating. I think you all should try it.

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2 Comments on “Day 67: Talking To Strangers”

  1. Susanna Says:

    wow Sarah!!! Good for you! In a way I know how you feel… we just had “pesrpective student” day at the college and were told to mingle with the students before they headed into the chapel… good grief try starting up a convo with high school students who you know don’t really want to talk to you!!! I didn’t do a very good job. My convos didn’t last longer than 3-5 min. So… I’m very impressed!!!!

  2. Heather Says:

    so inspiring, Sarah! I love social experiments and this is ideal. You are ambitious!!


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