I was taught very early on in my childhood not to talk to strangers. I think it’s safe to assume that most of us are taught this very valuable lesson as children, and for good reason. As a child, it is very rare that an adult who you don’t know would need to talk to you for any genuine or well-intentioned reason. As an adult however, strangers become a part of life; they become the majority of the people surrounding you.
The further I get from home and the familiarities of my life thus far, I find myself much more inclined to talk to and befriend strangers. I consider myself a good judge of character, and there are usually pretty clear body language indicators that can be used to determine whether a stranger is willing to engage you. Not everyone you meet will want to have a conversation with you, nor will everyone have your best interests at heart – but the same can be said for people you’ve known your whole life.
It is impossible to truly experience a city, town or even country if you don’t talk to the locals. Engaging with the community and finding out what really makes people love or hate where they live is essential. Whether it be small talk with a cashier, a friendly question to someone waiting with you at a bus stop or a light probe into the life of your Uber driver it is always worth making the effort. In some countries and regions, you will find that strangers might even start the conversation for you!
I have had some great experiences with strangers, and there are even some I now consider friends. One particular instance is from when I was living in Toronto and trying to get myself established in a new, fast paced city. I had organised an Airbnb for my first week there and had found a couple that I would be housesitting for after that. However, I didn’t realise that I hadn’t quite linked up my dates properly and would have a night’s accommodation unaccounted for. I was certainly not in a financial state to pay for a hotel or find another Airbnb on such short notice and the two backpacker hostels in the city were both full. I decided to post on the r/Toronto subreddit; for the uninitiated, this is a reddit community dedicated to the city of Toronto for news, events, discussions and the like.
I created a thread explaining my situation and asking if there was anyone who could help me out for the night. I had a few responses but one user sent me a direct message asking for a little more information about myself. We exchanged numbers and social profiles so that we could get a rough idea of what the other was like. He decided (foolishly) that I wasn’t an axe murderer and said that he’d be happy to put me up for the night! I couldn’t believe my luck and immediately started to pack my things knowing I wouldn’t have to stay up all night in a McDonald’s with work in the morning like I had planned.
The next day, we organised a time that I could come over once we had both finished work. I messaged a few people to let them know I was staying at a strangers house just in case they didn’t hear from me afterwards. I then got on the train to the suburbs and arrived at Rob’s house. Having dragged my two suitcases through the streets to get there, I was so relieved to arrive. I was expecting a cough to sleep on at best, a carpeted floor at the worst; but Rob had a full bedroom for me with a double bed! I chatted with him and his friend for almost an hour before we all retired for the night. I had a great sleep and wasn’t murdered in my sleep which was definitely an added bonus of staying at Rob’s place. In the morning, Rob made sure everything had gone okay throughout the night and then proceeded to invite me to a rugby game with his friends that weekend.
I ended up taking Rob up on his offer of the rugby that weekend. I went to an apartment nearby the one I was then staying at and met a few of his friends. We went to see the Toronto rugby league team play followed by Canada v USA in a national team friendly. I must say, the quality of football compared to what I’ve watched for years back home was somewhat lacking. But the atmosphere was great and I was there with a fantastic group of people!
I ended up leaving Toronto shortly after meeting Rob for reasons that I’ll expand on in the future. It’s unfortunate because Rob and his friends were an awesome bunch of people and I think there was certainly some potential for long term friendship there. Rob and I still have each other on social media and we are certainly no longer strangers, maybe one day in the future I can return the favour. *Rob if you’re reading this and find yourself homeless for a night in the same city as me please let me know!*
Always keep in mind that many of your closest friends were at one point strangers. Strangers are some of the greatest people you will ever meet, and I can almost guarantee that your life will be enriched if you allow yourself to open the door to the unknown. It won’t always work out for the best but life is all about taking risks. Next time you’re on a trip or even in your own city, turn that acknowledging smile into a friendly hello because you never know what might happen!