No one likes waiting in line. Most people also don’t like talking to strangers. So it probably sounds a little off to say that talking to strangers while waiting in line is actually enjoyable. In the last year, especially these last few months, I’ve come to notice that strangers are randomly chatting with me, while I’m in line, and surprisingly, I’m loving it.
Respect to these chatty bold strangers who are bucking the face-in-the-phone norm we’ve all grown accustomed to. Quite possibly the disruption to our anti-social bubble is just what we need. With our eyes glued to the pocket sized technology in our hands, it’s easy to zone out and almost vegetate- even while standing in line. This is our normal now. Think about how many people you see with their face in their phones at any given time of day. It’s almost surreal when you pay attention to the sea of heads looking down. But as I mention above, this is the norm now. In fact, the first smart phone came out on June 29th, 2007, so we’ve had 11 years to become more than comfortable with filling up any kind of down time with our handheld computers. I remember on our wedding day, which was July 1st, 2007, our photographer pulled out his new iphone and snapped a picture of us with it while he gleefully explained he had waited in line for hours to get this new amazing device called a smart phone! Little did we know that device would change everything!
Some of you are thinking it is the cringiest thing ever to engage with a stranger. Some of you would rather die than talk to anyone unless you absolutely have to. It may surprise you to know that those of us that are extroverts can still feel irked at the thought of having to venture out on an errand with the possibility of running into someone we know. While I’m usually up for a chat, I’m not in the mood to chat all the time. Sometimes we leave the house without so much as a two second glance in the mirror or without taking a brush to our hair. Other times, it’s not so much the aesthetics issue, it’s more so the timing. Like, hmm, I’m just going to run into Hallmark and get those three cards quick (knowing it will likely make me late for xyz). Then BAM you see Mildred from your child’s swim class and suddenly you want to slowly crabwalk out the store door without being detected. These are feelings regarding people we actually know that we just don’t have the energy to talk to at the moment. Now ponder strangers striking up a conversation with you…it’s surprising and just go with me on this…refreshing.
If you’re reading this, and you’re from the south or the mid-west, I know that it is not uncommon for strangers to compliment you out of the blue, make small talk in an elevator, or in a check out line while ringing you up. But I’ve lived out East for 16 years now, and it’s pretty rare for those types of things to happen. Additionally, I think it’s fair to say that nationally, it’s become more and more rare for these kinds of social transactions because everyone (including me) has their face in their phone to pass the time while in line, in the elevator, in a waiting room, etc.
This is why in recent months, I’ve been surprised by how great it’s felt to have someone turn to me in line at TJ Maxx and talk to me about my kids or ask me my opinion on what they are buying. For example, a woman standing in front of me in line at Bed, Bath, and Beyond, turned around and her face lit up when she saw what I was holding. It was garbage can for our newly remodeled bathroom. Yes, a garbage can! She gushed over how it was the perfect trash can for her new bathroom (it was a really cute farmhousey trash receptacle if I do say so myself). She asked what aisle did I get it from and were there any left so she could sprint from the line to get herself the same one.
In another instance, a woman noticed my son pouring over the pages of a Harry Potter magazine in the grocery store check out line. He was legit glued to this magazine.She laughed and mentioned how into it he was. I silently hoped she had grandchildren because she just had such a contagious warmth about her. Our conversation then prompted the young cashier to share that she had recently been to Universal and the Harry Potter ride was unbelievable. Which grabbed my son’s attention instantly, “Universal? What’s that? Mom, WHEN are we going THERE?”
In line at a Marshall’s, my son was having a tantrum because I wanted to buy one of those reusable environmentally friendly bags. The bag had a bike on it, and I’m obsessed with bikes, and happen to purchase a lot of things that are bike themed. He started crying and saying, “Noooo, nooo, please, no more bikes!”
The woman behind me started cracking up and said, “I guess he doesn’t care for bikes.” This completely lightened the mood, causing a bout of laughter to overtake an otherwise frustrating mom moment.
It felt good to have these short little exchanges where the strangers and I were somehow helping one another and in some cases just exchanging friendly banter. Maybe, it feels good because sporadic conversation with strangers has become a thing of the past now that our phones provide unlimited entertainment? Either way, I felt better after the conversations than before- so in my usual way- I couldn’t help but think about the “why” behind that feeling. Maybe this is more of what we all need- and perhaps our overly indulged, somewhat technology tweaked brains are craving this sort of organic interaction?
Strangely, it made me feel approachable because it confirms for me that I don’t have as bad as a resting B face as I thought. I guess it could be that these friendly people had some extra caffeine that day, or maybe the universe configured the matrix so we’d cross paths and they’d make a positive impact on my day or my kid’s day? Either way, it motivated me to be more open to strangers when standing in line. Giving an impromptu genuine compliment, politely smiling, or answering a question that could get them to make a solid decision on an unsure purchase don’t sound like such scary things.
When you’re cringing at the thought of bumping into people you know whether you’re disheveled, rushing, or in no mood to chat, remember that it’s also quite possible a stranger just might look up from their phone and engage you. I challenge you to welcome it. Here’s hoping it’s a pleasant exchange.