Talking To Strangers

Yesterday I went shopping for a pair of trainers to replace the battered but faithful old pair I have been wearing for way too long.

I would have replaced them months ago but I am one of those women who hates shopping. I hate the crowds, the choking heat in the shops, the overwhelming array of too much useless stuff, but mostly I hate the queues.

I was lucky as I found my trainers very quickly and since there was only me in the shop I was able to try them on and pay for them without encountering a single queue – happy days!

However, my happiness soon disappeared when nature called and I reluctantly found myself in a very long queue for the ladies toilets in a draughty hallway in a packed Galway shopping centre.

As I said above, I do hate queuing but I find the best way to pass the time in the queue is to talk to the person behind me.

Hearing problems (complete deafness in my right ear) have made me reluctant to engage a whole lot in social situations where there is a lot of background noise as I simply cannot hear unless the person I am talking to is on the side of my good ear and it is unbelievably hard work and awkward always having to position myself on the ‘right’ side of the person I am talking to.

This queue was long and snaking around a corner but it was quiet and knew I would be mostly able to hear the woman behind me.

Deafness has made me shy but I learned long ago that the best way to lose shyness is to pretend not to be – to make an effort and force yourself to talk to people anyway.  As long as what you say is relevant to the situation most people are friendly, especially in a queue.

So I turned round and commented to the woman behind me that the queue was looking very long and joked that I hoped we could all hang on.

She laughed and agreed. I caught an English accent as she spoke, so being a scouser myself, (someone from Liverpool in England,) I immediately asked her where she was from.

She rewarded me with a sharp look and said ‘England.’ I was taken aback by the irritation on her face and then realised that I had inadvertently offended her – she was black and thought I was referring to her colour rather than to which city in England she came from.


Once I realised this I told her I was from Liverpool and had noticed her English accent and that was why I had asked.

She laughed then and began chatting. She told me she hadn’t got the hang of the currency (euro) in Ireland and wasn’t sure which coins she needed to put in the turnstile to enter the toilet.


By the way – shame on Galway charging people to use the toilet when they’re already out spending money in the shops, restaurants and pubs and being fleeced by the car parks.

I helped her choose the right coins (20cents) and we continued to chat. The woman had recently lost her husband and a brother. She was bereft and feeling so lost and overwhelmed that she had decided to escape from home for a little while by visiting her friend in Galway.

We chatted more and and the queue seemed to melt away as we exchanged snippets of information about our lives. Actually we exchanged quite a bit of information. There is something quite freeing about talking to a stranger – you can dispense with the small talk knowing you will in all likelihood never meet the person again and as I enjoyed the chat the queue seemed to just melt away.

I remember listening to Maeve Binchy talking on the radio about how she had gathered ideas for stories by eavesdropping when ever she got the chance.

Being deaf means that eavesdropping is not something I am able to do too often – unless people speak really loud, but that doesn’t matter as I much prefer talking to strangers.

Writers spend an awful lot of time in our own heads, mining our own memories and experience for stories – this is great but spending too much time within can lead to us becoming a little bit out of touch with real life and that is not a good thing for a writer.

Talking to strangers can help bring us back down to earth and sometimes even give us inspiration so if you are out and about this week why not break out of your writer’s shell and talk to a stranger – you may be pleasantly surprised.


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