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Stranger Danger

April 23, 2014

Struggling to work a ticket machine at the airport, I asked a man for help. Turned out he had a spare ticket to the nearest underground station, and was in a rush for a meeting, so we rushed together to catch the train. Chatted on the way, mainly on cultural differences and London life, and parted ways with: it was sincerely wonderful to meet you.

He could have asked me out, and this would have been a romantic story. Alas, he didn’t. Nor had I thought of the possibility at the time.

It was the sheer joy of connecting. The world seemed that little bit smaller, closer and more together.

I spent last week at an annual meditation workshop in Madrid, and in a post-session snack one evening, two friends (Delphine and Laurie) and I set ourselves a challenge:

Who can speak to more strangers in the coming year?

This was rooted in discussing whether or not to connect with people on public transport. Laurie shared his fruitless attempts on the subway in New York, compared to Delphine’s lack of attempts on the metro in Paris and then my rare and random chats on the tube in London.

We discussed how we’d collate evidence of our meetings, and what constitutes a connection- does my having a transient greeting on my bike to a pedestrian, or fellow cyclist, count? No, according to the majority. So a conversation, a connection, that’s the challenge.

Ironically, a Spanish woman, a stranger, in the very place we were eating, came to ask us who were and what we were doing in Madrid… and this lady ended up attending the next two days worth of workshops with us!

And like a seed, this intention came into fruition, soon as I hit UK soil.

I’ve spoken at length to another stranger yesterday, at a random snack bar in Shoreditch, where I was grabbing a plate of rice and curry for lunch… this time we chose to exchange contacts, as our professional worlds may have overlaps…again this felt good.

At the same cafe, I talked to the lady who cooked the curry, at the same cafe, who told me about her love of farming on her allotment, and how 16 of her beloved chickens were hunted in one night by a stealthy fox…turned out that she runs two charities in Thailand for blind people and elderly women, and I could have spoken with her for a lot longer, had I not chosen to run (well, cycle) to a meeting, so I promised to be back again soon… and I will be.

London felt nothing like the vast and lonely world I had originally gotten to accept. As people- as animals!- we want to connect. I want to connect.

Also yesterday, a woman working at reception, told me how she felt shaken after an incident at the weekend: her mobile phone had been snatched from her hands, and how no one from the busy street even dared look in her direction. That’s the kind of interaction with strangers that I hear more about. Didn’t dare share Talking to Strangers challenge.

In fact, when I first moved to London to live with my mother at my grandparents’ home, I was pretty much scare-mongered into avoiding any contact with strangers: “People will kidnap and rape you in broad daylight, and no one will dare come to your rescue!”

I accept that my grandparents were strangers themselves to London, and in turn, London was a strange place to them, so they needed to protect themselves, and wanted to extend that protection to their family.

Still, I exercise caution, and I want to explore ways of bursting my individual bubble. Less on the underground or bus, as I have mentioned, I’ve become a keen cyclist, so I rely on other random encounters.

Please know, I do not go out of my way to talk to strangers. Far from it! I just keep open to the possibility of mutual connection.

There’s still the question of evidence: how will I prove that these interactions really happened. The thought of asking the man I met at the airport to pose for a selfie crossed my mind, but I didn’t have the bottle to implement this genius idea… other ideas are welcome!

From → Community, Random

  1. Saw you’d favourited my tweet so I thought ‘who’s this?’ and read a bit of blog and came to this blog post. Delphine from Paris doing a meditation workshop in Madrid (I used to live there!) rang a bell, there’s not too many, so it’s Delphine Le, no? Of Small world, stranger!

    • Hi there, indeed it is a small world! Having said that, I don’t think this is the same Delphine… Delphine named in the blogpost is Paris-based, and was a participant in a Sufi meditation workshop in Madrid that runs annually in Easter. Though your Delphine Le sounds great too! Thanks for reading the post, and making time to comment 🙂

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