I’ve recently watched a TED Talk – Why You Should Talk To Strangers – presented by Kio Stark. I’ve never heard of her before, but the title of the short video was enough to pique my interest. She was encouraging people to talk to strangers. Her reason: When you talk to strangers, you are telling them “I see you there.” And when you look at talking to strangers in that way, she says you develop a genuine emotional connection with someone.
Fear not – this blog is NOT a recap of the video I watched. If anything, I’d much prefer you watch it for yourself. However, as I watched and listened, it made me smile thinking about how fortunate I am to live in the south. Here in the south, there is no such thing as a stranger. Us southerners can pretty much talk to anyone, at any time, for any reason. While it may not be some in-depth, life-changing conversation, where life-long friendships are formed, sparking up a conversation with someone you don’t know is more like an unwritten, southern hospitality rule. There might as well be signs on I95 southbound stating – Last chance to turn around if small talk isn’t your cup of tea. (And by tea, I obviously mean sweat tea.)
I’m reminded of a time when this small-town girl from eastern North Carolina traveled all the way up to Harrisburg, PA, for work. – Spoiler alert, that small-town girl is me. – A few of my colleagues and I decided that before we checked into our hotel for the evening we would go out and grab some food. We found a bar and grill a few miles from our hotel, walked in and decided to sit at the bar. It was one of those oval shaped bars that no matter where you sat, you could see everyone. As I was looking at the menu, I couldn’t decide what I wanted to eat. About the same time, I saw meal after meal being delivered to my fellow bar sitters. Naturally, the southern girl in me started asking everyone sitting around the bar what they were eating because it looked so good and being from out of town I was hoping they could give me some recommendations.
At that very moment you could have heard a pin drop. You should have seen the looks on their faces. They glared at me in disbelief. I have never felt so unwelcomed in my entire life. The bartender walked over to me and gave me some recommendations.
We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.
No wonder you don’t hear the phrase: northern hospitality.
So next time you happen to have a few minutes in your day, and you’re willing to look up from your phone for more than 5 minutes, spark up a conversation with a stranger. Maybe they’ve been feeling lonely or just seem to think nobody takes notice of them. And then you come along, a pure stranger to them, making note of their existence by exchanging a few friendly words and maybe even a laugh or two. This could be all that they need in order to feel noticed.