Challenge #2: Talk to Strangers - 2
So, yeah—you know that talking-to-strangers thing I’ve been doing? Well, I kind of sucked at it this week.
After last week, I was feeling great. I was going places, doing things, and meeting people. I talked to so many strangers, and almost every day. It wasn’t even like work; opportunities to talk to people just seemed to happen.
This week was not like that. You know that expression, “like pulling teeth?” Well, trying to talk to strangers this week was like pulling really big, horrible, disgustingly strong teeth using a pair of broken tweezers with one arm in a sling. San Francisco was not having it. As a result, I proceeded to continuously make a complete fool of myself in a series of events I can only describe as some of the most socially awkward moments of my life.
Sunday: Megan Scares a Young Child at a Coffee Shop
I had to do some work on Sunday, so I took my computer to a coffee shop and decided I would find some people to talk to there. After trying to engage the guy at the counter, chat with a woman reading, and make eye contact with everyone who came in so maybe they would want to talk to me (I don’t know why I thought this would work), a little girl walked in with her mom. Great, I thought. Kids love talking, right?
“Well, hi, how are you?” I asked the little girl. “You have such pretty shoes.”
The little girl looked at me like she was going to cry, made this little whining noise, and then proceeded to run behind her mom’s legs and hide. She was completely terrified. The mom did not look very happy.
“She doesn’t like strangers,” the mom said.
Monday: Megan Makes People Uncomfortable in an Elevator
For some reason, I had this idea that I could make people talk to me in the elevator at my work. It’s always silent and there’s nowhere to go for at least 30 seconds, so why not strike up a conversation?
But instead of just saying hello like a normal person, I thought it would be funny to start things off by asking, “Did you know it’s National Talk to a Stranger in an Elevator Day?" I pictured myself like a character in a movie, charming strangers with my quirkiness and silly personality.
I used this line three times.
The first time, the guy responded, “Really?”
“No, not really,” I said.
Then he laughed a little oddly and said, “Well, this is my floor.”
The second time an older woman looked at me and said, “That’s not true.”
And the third time, this younger woman laughed a bit and said, “You’re funny.” As in, “You’re weird and funny, now get away from me, you crazy freak of a human being.”
So yeah, that didn’t work.
Tuesday: Megan Approaches People on the Street Like Some Kind of Vagrant
Tuesday, I thought I would try talking to people on street corners while waiting for the traffic lights to change. When I went out to grab lunch and get coffee, I would walk up next to someone, turn my head, and say hi while waiting to cross the street. Not weird at all.
Well, I got three odd “Who the hell are you?” looks, accompanied by tentative hellos. One woman just stared over at me and moved away. (Yes, she actually moved away. Like I was some kind of crazy person.) And then there was a man who said hi back before adding, “Have a nice day.” That was good, at least.
Wednesday: Megan Harasses a Nice Man Trying to Eat a Salad
Wednesday was my birthday (yay, happy birthday to me!) so I met my aunt for a drink after work to celebrate. I should mention that my aunt and my mom are part of my inspiration for this challenge—the two of them are always so outgoing and they both have this amazing ability to attract people. Their natural openness is something I’ve always admired, and I wish I had more of that part of them in me. But I just don’t.
My aunt knows about my challenge, so while we were finishing up our drinks, she leaned over.
“Look at that guy next to us,” she whispered. “He’s alone. You should talk to him.”
“No, that’s OK,” I whispered back.
“No, you should,” she whispered again.
I’m sure the guy could hear us. Then my aunt decided to initiate a conversation with him by introducing me as her niece who is blogging about talking to strangers. I don’t know why, but I was so embarrassed. It was like being outed or something. Or maybe it’s just that any time someone forces me into a conversation like that I automatically feel lame.
But we said our hellos and the guy was very nice and told us that he was visiting the city on business. Then the salad he ordered for dinner showed up, and it felt odd. We kept talking to him, but the guy obviously wanted to eat. And on top of all that, my aunt kept trying to prompt me. I was nervous and uncomfortable, so I did what I always do when I’m nervous and uncomfortable, which is say dumb things I don’t mean while giggling too much and trying to avoid eye contact with the person I’m supposed to be speaking to. Incredibly. Awkward.
Eventually we left, but not before I mixed up the Challenger and the Endeavor space shuttles and almost tripped on my bar stool while trying get out of there.
Thursday: Megan Actually Meets Some Chatty Midwesterners
Trivia night really is a great way to meet people. On Thursday, I ended up inviting a nice older couple and their son to join our team. We had large table with plenty of extra room, so they sat down, ordered dinner, and we all talked while trying to answer questions.
The couple, from Indiana, was visiting their son who lived in the East Bay. Their daughter was named Megan, too. They were afraid their son was becoming too soft when it came to dealing with hot weather. The dad knew his sports trivia, the mom knew a lot about classic rock and Disney movies, and the son knew movies and politics. They all helped us answer a few questions and even though we ended up doing really terribly, we had a great time singing Neil Diamond songs together and laughing about how much we didn’t know.
Friday: Megan Bugs a Nice Couple While Drinking Alone at the Bar
Friday was when I had my real birthday celebration, so after watching the Giants beat St. Louis and eating a yummy dinner at one of my favorite tapas places, my friends and I headed out to a bar in the Mission that had some dancing. When I got a little danced-out, I left my buddies on the dance floor and parked it at the bar with my beer.
Naturally, I thought that being slightly buzzed and alone at a bar was a great state in which to initiate a conversation, so I interrupted the couple next to me and introduced myself.
“It’s my birthday!” I said excitedly, even though my birthday was actually Wednesday.
“Happy birthday,” said the woman.
“Where are your friends?” asked the man.
And OK, so I guess it wasn’t that awkward, but it was the end of a long week of trying to coerce people into talking to me when they really didn’t want to. We’ve all been in that situation where a conversation feels strained or forced. It’s not fun, and that was pretty much my entire week.
But then, that’s why they call this a challenge. Because it’s hard. I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and I have. And you know what—sometimes it’s really uncomfortable out here. Hopefully that means I’m onto something.
Megan is a writer, editor, and public relations professional who has worked in publishing and education for the last seven years. She’s currently working for a higher-education startup in San Francisco and is obsessed with books, fancy cheese, dive bars, making herself tired, and basically anything ridiculous and beautiful.More from this Author