If You Want To Be Interesting, Be Interested In Others

Now, call me a Nebby Nancy or even just blooming Northern, but I love speaking to strangers. From successfully setting up friends with strangers that have caught their eye to simply complimenting someone's outfit,  I thrive off it. Heck, I once even managed to (unexpectedly) bag myself a date with a passenger of a Megabus coach. If that isn’t the start of a twenty-first century romantic millennial novel, I’m not sure what is…

For me, there’s just something about speaking to a stranger that can make you look at your individual situation, struggle, or even accomplishment through a different lens. Take the 83-year-old lady who asked for my assistance at work yesterday. Whilst helping her find a winter coat, she informed me she’d unexpectedly had a stroke four months prior, and that this was her first time leaving the house since. She spoke about not feeling like herself, and just like that, I found myself on a mission. I’ve previously spoken about clothes having magical powers, with each purchase having the ability to produce the desired identity. I didn’t just want to find her a winter coat, I wanted to find her The Perfect Coat, which would make her feel nothing short than extraordinary. And we did it, together, as she chose the perfect little fur number. The face that swept across both of our faces as she tried it on, was nothing short of a transformation. After purchasing the item, she thanked me before leaning in close across the till. “Now listen here, your life can change in the space of a single day. Whether that’s having a stroke or buying a new coat, just make sure you make every day count.” And just like that, I took note.

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Earlier this year, whilst holidaying in Lisbon, I stumbled across a tea shop. After complimenting the shop's interior and branding, the owner (as photographed above) informed me he'd travelled all over the world, only to discover he had a new found passion for tea. Gaining inspiration, he carried on exploring the world, but began sourcing the finest tea before eventually setting up shop in Lisbon, where he began stocking his favourite teas. Now with over 140 varieties, and with each tea holding a story of where, why, and how, I was extremely lucky enough to have been invited to sit in the parlour, whilst both him and his wife, shared their tales, and tea discoveries, whilst I was given complimentary rare Japanese tea. It's still one of my most treasured memories from travelling. 

Lastly, there’s the elderly man I got talking to at work last month. After somehow discovering he’d recently visited India (for the fifth time), my inner “once went to Thailand” persona leapt out as the conversation quickly turned to all things travel. After realising he had years of exploring under his belt, I suddenly turned into Anne Robinson of the Weakest Link, throwing him travel questions left, right and centre. He was so interesting, telling me the general gist of some of his favourite life experiences, before recommending Vietnam as a place of interest. Overwhelmed by inspiration, I thanked him for his time before telling him I’d recently been promoted and planned on spending the extra cash on travelling during my holidays off work. Expecting him to acknowledge my inner explorer efforts, that realisation came crashing down. “Oh, you’ve jumped on that treadmill,” he exclaimed in shame, before letting out a half-hearted smile and walking away.

And just like, my world suddenly stood very still. What had been an incredibly uplifting conversation that left me an adrenaline rush, had ended with nothing more than disappointment. “That” treadmill repeated itself over and over again in my head. Right until the end of my shift where I found myself walking into STA Travel and booking return solo flights to Vietnam.

One ten-minute conversation with a stranger may have cost me half a month’s wage but the internal paradigm shift, could not be bought. Influenced by his wise, albeit honest, words, I had become my own alchemist, turning the silver I already had into the gold he knew I was destined to become.  

It’s pretty simple – if you want to be interesting, be interested in others by speaking to strangers. If this is something that intimidates you, there a number of ways to overcome this fear:

1. Let them go second

Silence is awful. What if you miss the grace period to say hello and then you’re stuck in a plane side by side for hours? With every second that ticks by, the pressure builds to say something. After a while, it’s far too late, and you’re trapped in an endless cycle of avoiding eye contact, coughing uncomfortably, and suddenly become very interested in the publication

2. Talk to random people on purpose

You will be scared. Your heart will dive into your stomach, your throat will tighten up and you may even find yourself booking up a solo trip to Asia (just kidding). But just like everything else, it gets easier. I try to talk to one person a day. I know little, but other people know something. By talking to new people, I know a little bit more. It’s that simple.

3. Ask questions

After small talk, people begin to trust you with a detail about themselves. Nod and smile, and ask for more. Each sentence is going to be a wealth of information. Ask about the new stuff. Treat it like a game.

"But, what will I say next? What if we run out of things to talk about?" you ask. You won’t if you keep asking questions. I have noticed people always have plenty of problems or passions or both. What they don’t have is someone to listen to them. Be that someone.