Tips for Talking to Strangers

Meps in her Strangers shirt

I donated blood in my Strangers Have the Best Candy shirt, and they gave me an orange bandage!

When I wrote Strangers Have the Best Candy, I very deliberately wrote it in the first person. My techniques work for me, and they are very specific to my life and my personality. I would not presume to tell you “how” to do it without knowing you very, very well.

With that said, here are some things that you might try, if you’re not sure how to go about striking up conversations with interesting strangers:

Put yourself out there

Just being interested in strangers is the first step. How often do you find yourself among people you don’t know? The most important thing is to simply put yourself out there: Get out of your house, step out of your car, and put your phone away.

This can be a scary step, if you are used to staying in your own bubble. Remember, the rewards are immense.

Try people-watching

If you feel a little shaky, start with people-watching. Go to a park or an outdoor cafe and just look at each person as an individual, noticing how they look and dress, what they are carrying, who they are with. Notice your negative judgments and try to set them aside.

You can even take notes about the people you see. If you write a story in your head about a person, try writing it down. You may later have a chance to find out more about the person and see if you were right.

Start small

When you find another human being in your world, start small. Smile, and try to meet their eyes. What’s their reaction? Do they smile back? If so, be sure to say “Hello!”

Look for places where strangers hang out

If you’ve read the book, you know that interesting strangers are everywhere. It’s not where you are, it’s the attitude you bring with you. I can never predict which street corner will have someone like James, and which laundromat will have someone like Kris. With that said, it’s easier to talk with strangers in places where people are relaxed, such as:

  • Small-town diners and cafes
  • City parks
  • Farmer’s markets
  • Art galleries and craft shows

Standing in line is an interesting way to start talking to strangers. I was once in a very long line at the Farmer’s Market in Fort Pierce, Florida, waiting to order breakfast. A woman at the head of the line received her food after a lengthy wait, and as she walked away from the cashier, she exclaimed to her friend (who had a similar plate), “This is way too much food! I can’t eat it all.” She happened to be passing me when she had a brainstorm.  She turned to me and said, “Would you like half of this breakfast burrito?” When I said, “Sure!” she cut it in half, set it on a napkin, and handed it to me. Of course, then I no longer needed to wait in line for breakfast. So I strolled to the waterfront with them, and we ate together.

Cultivate an attitude of seeing

Noticing is a big part of talking to strangers. So often, we are engrossed in our own worlds and our own relationships, and we don’t even notice other people. We need to stop and look, to cultivate an attitude of seeing what’s around us. Noticing the world around us is a big step towards finding and connecting with the people in it.

Have you had interesting and rewarding encounters with strangers? Where was it, and what worked for you?

2 thoughts on “Tips for Talking to Strangers

  1. Hey, Margaret–Really enjoyed reading your book, and passed it along to the group! Caroline

  2. Hello Margaret! Such a great name – my middle name and my mother’s name! Just wanted to let you know I just finished Strangers and must say, it is a very delightful book. I’ll be sending it on to my daughter in Maine as it sounds as if you could be sisters. Now, the most IMPORTANT NOTE – Shirley in Spokane is one of my best friends and if she didn’t tell you about our camping trip – she sure should have – you would have loved it! I really miss her since I moved to Colorado last year. Keep up the good work! Del

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