codyb 2 months ago

I’m in San Francisco for work and yesterday an elderly man made a comment about the heat outside of a Walgreens.

I didn’t really have much to do, and I really enjoy walking around San Francisco with it’s beautiful light pastel palette, rolling hills, and masonry so we walked and walked for about 3 hours.

I was a bit tired by the end, and his story was a bit sad at times but when we finally departed I’d learned a tremendous about one man’s life, his struggles and his triumphs.

I finished my night off at a little sushi joint where, unprompted, I recommended a piece of sashimi to the couple next to me I’d never had that I really enjoyed from my platter. They turned out to be engineers from Square and Amazon who hailed from Seattle and we talked about tech and the world and had a few good laughs. Maybe they’ll see this.

Then I wandered back to my hotel where I saw James, and Alexis who I’d met and had become pleasantly intertwined enough with that they’d invited me out with them after their shifts the night prior.

Finally on the elevator up to my room I briefly chatted with Ruiz, a banker in town for work.

I can’t recommend talking to strangers enough. Sometimes they prompt you, sometimes you prompt them, but it’s a beautiful world out there filled with billions of stories, and they all add just a little spice to life.

  • mitchell_h 2 months ago

    I'm the guy that if you're in the line at walmart with me, I'm going to start talking to you. I've met some down right interesting folks this way. I also travel for work a lot. Talking to people in the hotel lobby is one of my favorite hobbies. I've met CEOs, truck drivers and people on vacation, all of them really interesting folks.

    Everyone has a story or a piece of advice to give you. Just ask.

    • crabl 2 months ago

      How do you generally start your checkout line conversations?

      • GoToRO 2 months ago

        By not forcing it I guess. You just start thinking aloud. If it's hot, you say it's hot. If you dropped something you say somenthing about that.

  • sharadov 2 months ago

    This is fantastic, I started working remotely a couple years back and then moved cities as well. I am an extrovert, but not the kind who will actively strive to make conversations. But I started doing this, and it's amazing!

  • CondensedBrain 2 months ago

    I think it depends a lot on where you are. Older strangers here mostly want to talk about sports, religion, the latest reality TV show, how much they hate The Gays and trans people, and how much better things used to be when they were kids and everything was nice and stable because everyone knew their place. That is a nostalgia trip I can do without.

    The people around my age spend all their non-work time commuting for work or being with family. They have no interest/time/energy--the reason varies--for socializing outside family.

    • bluntfang 2 months ago

      >Older strangers here mostly want to talk much they hate The Gays and trans people,

      Do your part and engage these hateful people. Show them love. Tell them you're queer and support LGBTQ people. We won't squash hate by ignoring the problem.

      • CondensedBrain 2 months ago

        Doesn't work. I'm not going to change the mind of a 60+ Baptist who's devoted their whole life to getting into heaven. They believe my soul is at stake and that accepting that part of me is itself a sin. They bolster their worldview every Sunday. The entire community they inhabit supports and defends this perspective.

        • autoexec 2 months ago

          > I'm not going to change the mind of a 60+ Baptist who's devoted their whole life to getting into heaven. They believe my soul is at stake and that accepting that part of me is itself a sin.

          You'd be surprised. Like habits, old thought patterns die hard, but nearly every person with a bigoted view that changes their mind does so after meeting people who don't fit the mold their prejudices try to force them into.

          Your conversation might not change their mind, and they may never change, but if their narrow worldview does one day crumble it'll probably be a death by a thousand cuts so every little cut makes a difference. Even for the devout the cognitive dissonance is always there somewhere. Feel free to feed it when you get the chance.

        • bluntfang 2 months ago

          I'm not suggesting that it will work on one individual. It's about creating a space where these people receive criticism for their hateful views, but in a productive way. It's about standing up for your friends and family. It's about living in a society. I hate the C word, but ignoring them is cowardly.

          • CondensedBrain 2 months ago

            You are free to risk your own mental health and safety [1]. Otherwise, you have no place calling anyone a coward. I tried. Zero progress. This is not safe or easy work and it's already tiring enough surviving in a place like this while trying to find a way out.


            • bluntfang 2 months ago

              Again, I don't disagree with you at all that it's dangerous and tiring. The alternative is concentration camps. It's already happening to brown people. Who's next? Who will be left to stand up for you?

      • gubbrora 2 months ago

        They'll literally die soon anyway

_Microft 2 months ago

First, as always you get better by practicing. Second, you don't need to be witty or spontaneous at all. You can think of a nice thing beforehand ( * ) and just use it when there is an opportunity. You can also make sure that the possible downside is low by e.g. talking when it is clear that you don't have to spend half an hour sitting next to another in, then, awkward silence. Some sort of reason for initiating a conversation also helps, in my opinion, so that talking about something doesn't come as much as a surprise (e.g. talking about some thing in view or an event that just happened).

Simple example: "Your groceries look a lot healthier than mine" in the queue at the super market started nice conversations for me.

It was clear that we'd just have stand next to each other for two minutes if the other didn't want to engage in conversation. It was a sort of compliment (you are shopping better things that I do) and it had a at least some sort of reason (there are real goods on the conveyor belt and they differ in healthiness).

Oh and really: limiting the risk by choosing temporary situations really helps to avoid the fear of having to spend time in awkward silence if the attempt at chatting fails.

( * ) Just anything can work here: "And I wondered whether I should bring an umbrella today" to someone actually having one; "Looks interesting" to your neighbour at a street performance; ...

  • nostalgk 2 months ago

    Another thing is that a lot of people consistently place themselves in a spotlight and imagine that conversations could go south, but really, other people don't typically hold one to the standard one holds themselves.

    Since I've started trying to talk to other people, I've noticed others doing the same to others and I. Occasionally someone in the same position will come up and say something awkward or basically a non-starter in conversation, and I find that I don't really judge them at all. Most of the time, I try to entertain them anyway or turn it into a positive conversation, and I've noticed others doing the same for me as well.

  • alphagrep12345 2 months ago

    As an Indian in the US, I do not understand what is acceptable, and what is not.

    Eg: An elderly woman was sharing Uber pool with me. She was complaining to someone over the phone about how Uber's new app does not have an option. I knew that the option was present, just that they moved it to a different page in the app. Should I communicate this to her after her phone call? What if she thinks I'm listening to her private conversation? I finally didn't tell her anything.

    • m463 2 months ago

      > As an Indian in the US, I do not understand what is acceptable, and what is not.

      Maybe just ask her.

      I remember a conversation I had with an Indian coworker - he asked me, "Why do Americans get so upset when I honk my car horn at them in traffic?"

      That led to an interesting conversation.

    • chrisshroba 2 months ago

      Personally, I would go for it! I would appreciate it if I were in that situation, and if for some reason she took it poorly, hey it's one ride of your life :)

  • sharadov 2 months ago

    An offhand compliment works great as well, you can't come off creepy :-))

HSJuniper 2 months ago

This has been the largest personal growth I've experienced in my lifetime and it has been a direct result of living a city that is walkable.

Before moving to San Francisco I hated talking to strangers and I would rarely engage in more than a few words with anyone on the street or in stores. Now I find myself cherishing small moments of conversation that occur in Ubers, on the MUNI, at communal tables in restaurants and in random interactions on the street, even with the homeless who I try my best to not ignore and treat like real people.

I can't believe the difference it has made in my mood, my feelings about this city and my general mood. Like so many things in life it's hard to know what exactly caused the shift in my behavior but it's brought me an incredible amount of happiness and deepened my appreciation of where I live.

  • reifiedgent 2 months ago

    I'm not sure it's the fact that it's walkable. London is very walkable but unless it's the last train home on a Thu/Fri/Sat night and everyone is very 'merry' then talking to strangers just does not go down well.

    I'm relatively new to SF but find the random interactions here beneficial in much the same way with regards to personal growth, and they seem to happen all the time. In the UK it felt like you can't talk to strangers - here it feels like you can't _not_ talk to strangers.

    So not sure if it's SF, California, or Americans in general, but it's refreshing for someone who is usually quite introverted.

    • vidarh 2 months ago

      I'm very much introvert and talking to strangers does not come easily to me, but at times I've experimented with engaging strangers in conversations, largely because while I don't feel a need to constantly talk to people I wanted to get over my hangups about it, and I largely have. I still mostly don't talk to strangers because I find it exhausting and it doesn't interest me that much.

      But when I do, in London, I've never once had a negative experience.

      On the contrary, as soon as people here realise you're not trying to sell them something, or get anything from them, they tend to fall over themselves to be nice, and I've had people start pouring out their life story after just a simple 'how are you today?' to a shop assistant I'd only seen once or twice ever, because I actually waited for an answer.

      I think a lot of people in London go around so starved for any kind of contact that as long as you're not acting totally creepy most people will be very open to it.

      The hard thing with London is that you need to actually actively push past an expectation of not talking to people.

      I actually find California more frustrating because while it's easy to get into a conversation, it's impossible for me to tell what is just pleasantries from when people are actually invested in a conversation.

ucosty 2 months ago

I find the only strangers who ever try to talk to me in public are the ones who want something. This means I'm always suspicious of people who approach me, and have an aversion to being seen as the same.

  • drenvuk 2 months ago

    Your worries about being seen as the same are silly, people can usually tell whether you want something from them a few sentences in and after that a pleasant conversation is usually in progress. It's worth it to strike up conversations with randoms. On the elevator one time I had a fun talk with an optical engineer about detecting methane leakages with lasers and whether it had applications in space.

    How often do you get to enjoy that?

  • wallacoloo 2 months ago

    Similarly, I’ve experienced some extremely skeptical looks when I sit down next to a stranger my age on the bus and ask “how’s it going”. Some people here are very business-oriented, I guess: it ends up being less socially awkward if I open with something that’s on the surface more selfish: if I’m on the window seat when a stranger sits next to me it’s “which stop are you?” ... and then “I’m getting off just before that - I better take the outer seat” or “perfect, I’m riding until <xyz>”. Now I’ve broken the ice, in a way that’s more acceptable for whatever reason, I’ve had a minimal amount of interaction to guess if they’d prefer to talk or be left alone, and if talk, we both have opportunities for conversation-starters (whatcha doing at <xyz>).

    I don’t know what to think of it: maybe I just overthink these interactions. But it’s been disappointing for me to finally start taking the initiative to speak with strangers only to find that 3/4s of them want nothing to do with it.

snrji 2 months ago

I do it all the time... on Twitter and Reddit.

In real life I would never even look at eyes of a stranger.

Probably some people here can relate.

  • stackola 2 months ago

    I can. But I don't think that should be the default state, nor is it healthy.

    I'm really trying to do better in this regard, but it's proving difficult to improve at.

  • xattt 2 months ago

    There’s a common mindset at play when you seek interaction through a site.

    On the street, there’s no rule that you can’t speak to anyone. Most people, however, find comfort in black-and-white answers in knowing if is appropriate to engage. It is this uncertainty that drives individuals not to engage.

jdblair 2 months ago

The biggest thing I miss at my current job is interaction with people I don't work with. When I commuted from Oakland to San Francisco I would talk to people on BART, at restaurants when I went out for lunch, and sometimes just made conversation with people on the street.

Now I work at a large company in the south bay. Lunch is provided and I ride my bike to work. There is basically zero chance to interact with anyone outside my workplace unless I make it happen deliberately.

jamesmp98 2 months ago

I'll believe it, the problem is I'm rarely in a situation where I'm near people and have the time to chat. The only times I've talked to strangers, have been, for example, when a crosswalk signal is taking an unusually long time to change. I'm normally at work or at home, and when I'm out, it's normally to quickly grab something to return to one of the two.

Also it's so much easier to strike up a conversation with one stranger rather than a group (which is what I usually encounter going out leisurely. Oddly I found the opposite with established friends / acquaintances. I can talk and converse with a group of my now friends much better than a single friend

failrate 2 months ago

Many people feel invisible and ignored. Just listening to someone can be therapeutic for them.

harlanji 2 months ago

I used to do this. Now I don’t because my online reputation is messed up, so as soon as they inevitably Google me they’ll see a terrible first page of search results. Looking for a way to free myself of this, aside from changing my uncommon name and 20 years of career history. I agree it’s all in my head and I shouldn’t let it dominate me, but I have largely given up still. Tangent, but this is the evil of a permanent record; even school kids know to fear it.

  • istorical 2 months ago

    I just googled you and found nothing negative about you at a cursory glance at your first page of google results, unless I searched the wrong terms. I mean I found a little civil dispute about noise complaint (assuming that's you) but I can't see how anybody would care about that.

    I think you're overthinking the importance/impact of this to other people because you're falling prey to whatever the fallacy is called where one tends to expect people to care more about themself/pay closer to attention to one's self than they actually would. Like when you have a pimple if you normally have clear skin and you don't want to go outside because of it even though most people would hardly notice.

viburnum 2 months ago

This is only welcome if you’re an attractive person. I used to do this all the time and thought I was pretty good at it but really people were just humoring me.

ptah 2 months ago

maybe that is only the case in chicago. I would find it immensely irritating if some stranger tried talking to me beyond "hello"

  • therockspush 2 months ago

    I was in chicago last week riding the L to the airport. One of the doors broke, and a maintenance worker came on to tell everyone to use the other door.

    There were 10 more stops to the airport.

    At every one someone tried to exit using the broken door. At first it was funny because they not only didn't hear the worker explain it, but also didn't notice the 5 people at the last stop who just did the same thing.

    I started telling people as I saw them try to approach the door, but the look on everyones face was "who is this creep trying to talk to me right now".

  • LandR 2 months ago

    Yep. I find my big on-ear headphones are a good "I don't want to talk to anyone" indicator :)

    I basically never leave the house without them. I think if you tried talking to random strangers where I live most people would think you are a weirdo / creep. I don't think it would go well.

    Never mind if it's a cross sexes conversation. A guy trying to make friendly conversation with a woman could go very south, quickly.

    I work in a shared office / tech hub and you don't see people from different companies talking to each other at all really. In fact it can be quite humourous seeing how awkward it is if two people try to use the kitchen area, both trying to get their kitchening done without acknowleding the existence of the other, apart from the occasional "sorry" as they get in each others way.

  • jsutton 2 months ago

    Well, the whole point of the article is that most people feel the same way you do, until it actually happens.

    • ptah 2 months ago

      it has happened to me and it was most annoying as i used to use that time to read or watch coursera videos

  • failrate 2 months ago

    It depends on where you are in Chicago. Riding public transit or walking in downtown? Leave everyone alone. Most other places? Give it a shot.

    • marpstar 2 months ago

      Why not walking downtown?

      Last time I was in Chicago I was approached by a hustler almost immediately after I got out of the parking garage. He gave me the typical spiel about his family being down the block and he was out of money. Not out of the ordinary for Chicago.

      We engaged in small talk for a minute. After I put a $5 in his hand, he began to break down and explain that I was the "first white person" to talk to him all day. He went on to imply that "white people" are afraid of him (he's black). At the end of our exchange, he asked me for a hug and I reciprocated. He told me he'd pray for me and I wished him well.

      Maybe it was all bullshit, but it brightened my entire day.

      • failrate 2 months ago

        Why not downtown?

        In my experience, because people got shit to do, whoch is why they're downtown.

        Re: your new friend, the hustler.

        You're a special person, because the standard reaction to that kind of person is to walk around them without making eye contact. I commuted through downtown daily, and I got to recognizing the hustlers pulling out the same rehearsed stories over and over again.

        Of course, you definitely don't want to become as much of a cynic as me :)

  • weberc2 2 months ago

    I'm not sure it would even reproduce in Chicago. Downtown and the North, West, and South sides are pretty culturally distinct; how do the researchers know they're observing some universal human trait and not something that is specific to one culture?

  • magashna 2 months ago

    Try this in the north east and see how quickly people think you're a weirdo or annoying

    • technothrasher 2 months ago

      Eh, it works fine enough in the Boston area. The key is to be able to read people's response quickly. You make a small comment or witticism, and they'll either give you a non-committal remark back or they'll literally light up and begin conversing with you. If you continue on when they haven't reacted positively, that's when you're perceived as annoying or weird.

      • jamesmp98 2 months ago

        I'm from the south and visited Boston earlier this year and I feel like people really overdo the whole "southerners are overly nice and in your business" and "northerners are cold, uninterested and busy". People we're equally nice in both places and we had some nice, brief conversations with strangers. A friend of mine who I was with is German and he seemed to think people were exceedingly friendly

      • velp 2 months ago

        Exactly my experience. The key is to start the conversation in a way that also allows the other person to exit and save face. If they don't feel trapped it's much lower stakes for everyone involved.

arvinsim 2 months ago

Wish that this is true everywhere. Unfortunately, talking to strangers is very uncommon to some cultures.

  • wackro 2 months ago

    Where are you that it would be that much of a problem, if you don't mind me asking?

    Cultural normals are one thing, but on a personal level people do tend to enjoy interacting with one another.

    • zucked 2 months ago

      I'm from the US but I've spent a deal of time outside the US, primarily in Eastern Europe. In my experience, it is extremely uncommon to strike up conversations with strangers in Eastern European countries.

      My wife, having spent a great deal of time in Eastern Europe as well, described it best to me - Americans are extremely good at having a surface-level chat with just about anyone. However, it is neigh impossible for people to get beyond the surface-level friendship. Deep, true, and lasting friendships are hard to come by. Eastern Europeans, conversely are extremely distant and cold at the onset, but with a little persistence, you break through that cold exterior and become almost family.

      I could not hide my American-ness abroad and I often was the recipient of stares and mouths agape, but I love chatting with strangers. Everyone has a story to tell and many of those stories are downright fascinating and humanizing.

      • new2628 2 months ago

        I would say striking up conversations is possible in EE and US (and everywhere else?) to about the same extent, but just like language, social norms, attitudes, social clues can subtly differ in various places, and a strategy that works in one place may not work in the other, as you say the American style may come across in some societies as a bit aggressive.

        source: someone who spent 1/3 of their life in EE and 1/3 in US.

      • yitchelle 2 months ago

        Kinda true even in some western European countries. I have heard the Germans being compared to a cactus. It is tough and thorny on the outside but soft and sweet on the inside.

ch 2 months ago

You ever sit there wanting to strike up a conversation with a random stranger, and have no idea where to begin?

I think that has more to do with the observed self-imposed isolation than is given credit in the article.

  • Veen 2 months ago

    I have a friend who is excellent at this. He starts talking about whatever, someone's clothes, how his day is going, the weather, anything vaguely relevant to the situation.

    People often look slightly uncomfortable at first, but they seem to quickly get over it and start to chatter away enthusiastically. I find it fascinating because I'm totally incapable of doing the same thing: usually I'll be standing next to him squirming with embarrassment at the potential for an awkward moment.

    • yomly 2 months ago

      I've seen people "get away with murder" - corny jokes, terrible cliches. The term "sheer force of character" comes to mind - if you're confident enough in yourself, you can usually lead social situations/protocols against the grain as if you can establish that fundamentally you mean well most people will eventually go with the flow.

      YMMV though, the people I know who can do this were able to do this from very young in age and I liken it to having a skill, except that it's hard to teach and not many people explicitly value it as something to "learn" - people would rather assume it's something innate

    • asdkhadsj 2 months ago

      I'm with you. Though, while I've often wanted to do it but I don't avoid it purely due to my awkwardness; I also avoid it because I don't want to be "that person" and bother someone just minding their own business.

      Not that any of this is wrong. I'm just explaining my fear in these situations. Awkwardness I can fight through, but fear of awkwardness combined with fear of actually bothering someone.. it just combines to make me think it's not worth doing.

  • kevkevin 2 months ago

    Yea it definitely just the fear of striking up a conversation rather than an individual not wanting to have a conversation. If someone were to speak to me I would not be opposed but me starting the interaction is whole different story.

  • throwayEngineer 2 months ago

    Ask them,

    >do you have any fun plans tonight/weekend?

    >So where do you work?

    It basically doesn't matter. I sometimes do the awkward, "hello I'm Michael, what are you doing this weekend?"

    • SmellyGeekBoy 2 months ago

      I'm usually friendly to strangers but I'd be immediately suspicious of someone asking me either of these questions out of the blue - and I'm a middle class, middle aged male.

      • _Microft 2 months ago

        It might be a cultural thing but yes, here in Europe I would be pretty suspicious of someone approaching me like that out of the blue. I mean, heck, that's none of your business!?

        • collyw 2 months ago

          Smokers always have a reason to start talking to random people.

      • throwayEngineer 2 months ago

        That's fine. Not every conversation turns into friendship.

        Most of mine I am trying to find similarities or learn new things.

        After the conversation is over, it won't matter how you opened, it won't matter if the person felt suspicious. I can't control your upbringing or your day.

        You either are friends, or you likely won't see them again.

        No one died.

    • vorpalhex 2 months ago

      A compliment or a question is usually a good way to start. "Oh hey, nice shirt, have you seen that band in person?"

      • jamesmp98 2 months ago

        lol I went to a local music venue a few weeks back and tried this. After inquiring about one guys shirt, he started at me for a few seconds like I was insane and turned around

        • res0nat0r 2 months ago

          If someone at a concert acts like you've insulted them by asking about their music related shirt, then the problem is with them, not you.

          • throwayEngineer 2 months ago

            This is precisely why I don't feel bad about asking innocent questions.

            If they can't handle basic conversation, it's them.

        • vidarh 2 months ago

          Then you have the perfect opener for anyone overhearing by cracking a joke about it.

diehunde 2 months ago

I've always wanted to be that person. It's some of those things easy to say but very hard to do when you don't have the social skills.

  • vidarh 2 months ago

    You don't need social skills for it. It's a good way to get them.

    Here's a simple experiment to start with: make a point of every time you have a 'captive audience' such as a bus driver or cashier:

    1) look them in the eye (take your cash out in advance etc.). This instantly sets you apart.

    2) Say 'hi, how are you?' and smile, and actually pause for an answer.

    You'll be surprised at the result. So many people in service jobs are so used to being treated as objects that they'll often jump as chances to have real human interactions and just a little eye contact and a pause that suggests you actually care about an answer makes a huge difference.

    I've had cashiers literally run over to open a lane when they saw me coming after a couple of brief conversation, and people starting to tell me all kinds of personal details.

    You don't need to have social skills at all other than that initial question, and trying to remember a detail or two and ask them about it another day. Enough people will talk enough about themselves to get you started.

    And the bonus is you can often tell it makes people cheer up.

    I don't really get much out of social conversations with people, and it's a big effort for me, but the things above are simple enough, and big enough impact to be worthwhile.