Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Talking to Strangers...

I have never been a fan of talking to strangers.

My parents claim there was a minor blip in the early '90s when they say I asked complete strangers at a theme park how the roller coaster was as they excited the ride. I vaguely remember this, but for the most part I get skeeved out when it comes to making small talk with people that I don't know. I have to think this comes from a Berenstain Bears lesson or the trauma I endured as an adolescent when my mom decided it would be a good idea to loudly inform the sales associate at Mervyn's that I would need help picking out my first bra. I have watched in awe as my friends and boyfriend chatter away with checkers in the grocery line and have picked up a few tips. It is okay to discuss universal things like the weather and asking other people about themselves seems to be encouraged.

Since I realized that the efficacy of my dental training depends on my ability to create a trusting relationship with virtual strangers, I have been "practicing" my communication skills over the past year or so. What an adventure! I have opened up to waiters, asking their opinions on what to order, and just yesterday had gobs to talk about with the new guy that cuts my hair. It is funny because in the instance of my hair guy he is probably trying just as hard to make conversation with me as I am with him, so it's slightly contrived, but still good for practice.

I'd like to think there have been a few positive outcomes in conversing with strangers. Over the weekend I taught a checker at Sun Harvest Market how to roast pumpkin seeds and once at the Nordstrom Bistro I was advised to order my sandwich warm, a suggestion that would have remained unknown had I been too timid to ask the waiter how he felt about their Roast beef sandwich. When I was studying/living/partying abroad in Barcelona during college I got some great help from strangers willing to take us out, give directions, etc, although more often than not I was being criticized by my peers for giving "friendly" strangers in bars the "cold shoulder." Um, hello? You have to be a little bit cautious.

There have, however, been a few social mishaps with this new found drive to interact. For example, what I didn't write about in a previous post about restauranting was the time I tried to make a joke to the girls swiftly taking over our table at a crowded cafe. "Get it while it's hot," apparently was not funny and to make matters worse, since I was so focused on what I was trying to say, I accidentally jabbed the pizza box I was holding directly into this girl's gut. Whoops.

And unfortunately at times, social mishaps turned into straight-up fights! I think there are some bullies among us. Last week at Body Pump (workout class with the other PLSB contributors) I accidentally bumped into this man whilst trying to reach some weight clamps for a friend. He gets into a huff and exclaims, "you don't need to push, there is enough for everyone." Not understanding why this man, who easily had 100 pounds and two feet on me, was in such a tizzy over my slight nudge, I retorted, "actually there is NOT enough for everyone. We run out of supplies every week!" I felt remorseful the entire remainder of the class and I bet he never thought about it again. Little did he know he just tarnished my new talking-to-strangers record.

Another fight erupted on the way to school one morning. I'm driving along and see a bike rider over to my right. I'm thinking, boy I don't want to get stuck behind this bike so I speed up and get ahead. He somehow ends up in front of me in line at the light that is the only exit out of our little neighborhood. Evvvverrrryone knows that at 7:45 am you do not, repeat do NOT get into the right lane and go straight. If you want to go straight, get in the left lane and kindly wait on the light, because everyone and their mom is headed right on Babcock and needs to be able to turn right on red. So this jerk bike rider, decked out in North Face and probably some fancy shmancy bike equipment that I don't understand gets in the MIDDLE of the right lane waiting to go straight holding up about eight cars who are trying to turn right on red. The blinkers are getting louder and louder. I try to remain calm, but I just wish the biker would scootch over to the side and let me go around him. I mean I understand we are supposed to treat him like a car, but he is on a BIKE and cannot go 45 miles per hour so he might as well be courteous to all these automobiles behind him. B wants to say something, but I keep the child lock on the windows so he can't get us into trouble. Five minutes later and Lance Armstrong still seems oblivious to all of us waiting so I relent. Window goes down and B kindly says, "um hey can you move over so we can all get around you?" (I could not hear his response at the time, but) biker says, "well you cut me off back there so you can F*** off." I can't believe he used the F word this early in the morning to a complete stranger! B and I were fuming and would have been ready to fight this chump had we not been in such a hurry to get to school. I vowed to really let this guy have it if I ever saw him around.

I just assumed this guy was a snotty med student, but funny thing is.....two weeks after the incident I walk into my first day of Oral Surgery. I head to the back of the clinic to put my bag down and who should I see??!?!? Angry bike rider! Luckily we never had to interact with the oral surgery residents, but wow I came close to burning a bridge there. Now that we've had the run-in, this "stranger" is becoming less and less strange. The other day I was walking behind him into the gym and then we actually saw him one rack over at Banana Republic!

The thing about strangers I guess is that you have to be careful because you might bump into them again. After all, wasn't every friend at one point a stranger?

As for me, I continue the fight against social awkwardness and would appreciate any tips on how to communicate more freely and effectively.

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