Talking To Strangers Is Good For Your Health

Every Saturday I look forward to reading Vinay Menon’s Opinion column in the Toronto Star. He’s replaced the late and unbeatable Gary Lautens as one of my favourite light-hearted newspaper-reading pleasures with his gentle humour and wry observations on everyday life. Reading last week’s “Chatting up strangers is good for our health” column reminded me of a blog I posted nearly ten years ago that still rings true today. I thought I’d re-share it with you and hope you enjoy the same connection:

Don’t Never Talk to Strangers (from BoomerBroadcast May 2014)

Yes. It’s a double negative, intentionally. Now that I’m retired and not rushing head-down in a panic all the time, I have more time to observe life and in particular, to people-watch. This new preoccupation has led to an increase in my engaging strangers in quick conversation which usually takes the form of a comment as I’m passing by. Food courts seem to be particularly conducive to making new friends.Yesterday as I was enjoying my fast-food lunch at Sherway Gardens, I kept watching the young woman sitting at the next table eating lunch with her boyfriend (they were sharing food so I assumed they also share other things.). She was pretty in a plain, quiet way and had the m0st beautiful large gray-green eyes. As I picked up my tray to leave, I leaned over to her and said, “I’m sure you’ve been told this before, but you have the most drop-dead gorgeous eyes”. She lit up like a Christmas tree and I felt like I’d made her day. The lovely part is that it helped make my day too. She felt good. And I felt good.

Food courts are particularly conducive to chatting up strangers.

red hair

My habit of engaging strangers in a one-sided conversation began with babies. I can never resist peeking into a stroller and complimenting the mother on how beautiful her precious little one is. I particularly love natural red hair and cannot pass an adult or child in the mall or on the street without leaning in and making a positive comment as I pass by.
Vacations are another opportunity to make friends by talking to strangers. Whether you decide to chat with another tourist or someone local, the outcomes are usually positive. Obviously, this practice applies only to adults. The people we meet on vacation can sometimes turn into lifelong friends.

The other day I was in a kitchen store and was served by a beautiful, somewhat shy young lady. I began our conversation by telling her how pretty she was and what beautiful skin she had. She immediately relaxed and we then engaged in a lovely conversation about the store products. Passing along compliments to strangers is a free way of “paying it forward”—when the compliments don’t come with an ulterior motive. Retail sales personnel are the most transparent opportunists for finding at least one thing about your appearance to compliment when you enter their store. “I love your shoes.” They’ve been trained to know it makes you feel better and you’re more likely to spend money in their store.

Again in a food court the other day I sat next to a couple of high school girls, one of whom was wearing a tee shirt with the Beatles’ Revolver album imprinted on the front. That’s talking my language and I couldn’t resist commenting to the girl wearing it. “I loved that album 30 years ago, before you were born,” I said. Both girls laughed and seemed to appreciate the attention. I appreciated their taste in music.

My motive for passing along these compliments and observations is not only because it makes the other person feel great, but I feel better too. When I tell the checkout clerk at SuperStore that I love her haircut her face lights up and I’m sure she appreciates hearing a positive remark in a day that probably has had more than its share of complaints and she’s been on her feet all day. Positive feedback is so uplifting.

Boomer broads are a generation raised to downplay compliments in case we’re thought to be “showing off”. When someone tells us we’re looking particularly snazzy, our reply often is something like, “Oh this old top. I’ve had it forever.” Like my contemporaries, I’ve had to train myself to accept compliments graciously and appreciate the good intention.

My habit of engaging in conversation with strangers seems to be on the increase. I agree with Vinay Minon and I look forward to even more opportunities for feeling good. Spread a little sunshine and share the warmth, mes très chères.

November 2023 Footnote:

Go for it! Make a new temporary friend.

The other day as I waited for the GO Train to take me downtown to the Women’s Show at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, I noticed two women about my age also waiting for the train. “Are you headed to the Women’s Show?” I asked. As it happens they were so we struck up a conversation that continued all the way downtown. My new friends even had boomer names, Susan and Rose.

When we disembarked from the train, the three of us tried and collectively failed to find the SkyWalk to the Convention Centre from Union Station. Asking directions from three different people yielded no help so we schlepped along Bremner Blvd. until we finally spotted the entrance to the subterranean complex next to the aquarium.

I have to say, in all my years of attending events downtown, I have never once been able to locate the infamous SkyWalk. Walking along the street, I can see it up there but can never find the entrance. There is no signage in Union Station or the Convention Centre directing us where to go—and we’re locals. How on earth do tourists ever navigate their way around down there?

At least I made a couple of temporary new friends, thanks to my habit of talking to strangers and that’s always a good thing. Don’t you agree?

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