The secret of happiness?
August 17, 2019 10:58 AM   Subscribe

 
(I have found this to be really true, to my curmudgeonly surprise. Recently my whole mood turned around when I was fed up with some friend stuff and talked to some cool strangers at a bar. I was interested to see there's been research into it.)
posted by ferret branca at 11:24 AM on August 17, 2019 [12 favorites]


It is fear that the person sitting next to us won't enjoy talking to us that makes us keep to ourselves, Epley found.

No it isn’t.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 11:27 AM on August 17, 2019 [42 favorites]


I did feel my mood lift today after a random conversation with the fishmonger at the local farmer's market. I wandered nearby, seeing that they had very little fish left.
He suddenly popped up out of nowhere: "Bluefish, bluefin or fluke"
Me: "Oh I'm still debating, thank you!"
He: "Oh no pressure, just letting you know your options"
Me: "Looks like you had a pretty successful morning"
He: "Yes, though most of the species ran out in the last ten minutes"
Me( mentally amused that he referred to the fish as species): I think I will take some tuna please
He: Great, here let me show you what we've got, you can take your pick. How many people?
Me: Well, two adults and a toddler.
He: Maybe this larger one then? 1.2 lb How does that sound?
Me: Yup, sounds perfect! And, do you think you could chuck some ice in there too?
He (laughs): Oh yeah, I sure can "chuck" some ice in there. As you can see, I've got plenty of ice!
*Proceeds to put fish in bag and add ice with exaggerated chucking motions*
He: How's that, good enough chucking for you?
Me: Yes, that's great, thank you!
He: Well, you have a very nice rest of your day
Me: You too!

It was the very opposite of a quick transaction but the whole thing left a smile on my face and I told my husband about the funny chucking of the ice.
posted by peacheater at 11:37 AM on August 17, 2019 [24 favorites]


Souvent pour s'amuser les hommes d'equipage
And it's like talking to a stranger
Tell me what you saw on REAGAN-EAGLE DOT COM
And it's like talking to a stranger
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 11:48 AM on August 17, 2019 [1 favorite]


The doors open wide, you enter, and they close behind you. As the elevator begins its ascent, you realize it's just you and one other person taking this ride. The silence soon grows uncomfortable.

no it absolutely never does grow uncomfortable, what is wrong with this person! the silence is completely comfortable because polite strangers with no more than the normal level of anxiety operate under the completely normal social convention of expecting to see strangers in the public elevator and expecting to leave them alone! who the fuck needs some phone-fiddling excuse to not talk to a person when not talking to them is already the standard polite thing to do!

jesus

the key to happy interactions with strangers is being able to discern when it's appropriate and welcome to talk to somebody you don't know and when it isn't. ten seconds in the elevator is when it fuckin isn't.

p.s. last time I almost had an elevator conversation I was imperfectly suppressing furious tears coming down to the lobby after a terrible doctor's appointment, and the woman in there with me was clearly bursting with compassion and the desire to express it, and she KEPT IT TO HERSELF all the way down to L. and for this, she may be the most civilized stranger I have encountered this year. she did say she hoped I was ok at the very end of the ride, but not until the doors opened and I was already moving out and we were no longer trapped together.

because of civilization.
posted by queenofbithynia at 11:59 AM on August 17, 2019 [115 favorites]


There is a huge difference between a chatty transaction with an employee of a business I'm patronizing and spontaneous small talk with a stranger. An employee is (hopefully) compensated in part for being nice to customers, and is much less likely to go randomly aggro. They are where they are supposed to be and my talking to them won't keep them from getting on with their day or make them feel trapped on public transportation. If there's no line behind me, I will often have a small conversational exchange.

I'm that weird lady who will often talk to strangers - when we're both engaged in the same thing, like at a bar, or both interested in the same book at a bookstore, or sitting next to someone at sporting event. But the talking to people on public transportation? The elevator??? Hell no, nope nope nope. And these men who encourage eye contact and smiles, have they ever had the thought "if I smile, he could think I'm flirting", or "if I make eye contact but don't smile he could hurt me"? You ever been catcalled and then gotten a death threat in the same ten seconds, Kipling Williams?
posted by Mizu at 12:11 PM on August 17, 2019 [20 favorites]


My day pretty much goes to utter shit when a stranger talks to me so yeah, keep your thoughts to yourself, dinguses.
posted by stevis23 at 12:12 PM on August 17, 2019 [11 favorites]


strangers, especially strangers who aren't men, don't exist in the world for your entertainment, and chatting them up when they have a limited ability to escape is rude.

tbh I'm more likely to mess with my phone or otherwise actively avoid eye contact when I think the other passenger is likely to be intimidated by me. that's not because I'm "too focused on the digital world," motherfucker, it's because I was a teenage girl and I have half a clue about other people's experiences.

the elevator I used to use most often was in my apartment building. like hell do I want to make random people who know I know where they live feel obligated to make small talk with me. fuck right off.
posted by bagel at 12:17 PM on August 17, 2019 [14 favorites]


Really, it takes two to tango.

By all means, strike up conversations with strangers, in an appropriate context.

That varies by culture. But definitely avoid causing fear as much as possible.

Most importantly look for, be sensitive to cues your remarks aren't welcome.
posted by goinWhereTheClimateSuitsMyClothes at 12:18 PM on August 17, 2019 [3 favorites]


And these men who encourage eye contact and smiles, have they ever had the thought "if I smile, he could think I'm flirting", or "if I make eye contact but don't smile he could hurt me"? You ever been catcalled and then gotten a death threat in the same ten seconds, Kipling Williams?

I can't quite grab the common thread here, but something about this, pick-up culture, and the way white (men at least) are socialized/motivated to engage with the world only from the perspective of their own self interest is very disconcerting. It's not a super coincidence this is a white male american interviewing another white male american about how to find happiness and how their experiences reinforce one another's. Though I suppose 1 of the 3 people interviewed was a a white woman from Canada...

White people trying to find happiness in the ongoing tragedy of colonialism/capitalism has.... consistent methodologies.

I hope this isn't a derail, but I find these worldviews dehumanizing personally.
posted by avalonian at 12:22 PM on August 17, 2019 [6 favorites]


My absolute least favorite thing is people on the street who strike up a conversation and then it turns out are asking you for money. It doesn't matter to me whether you're lying to me about a fictitious car being out of gas or you're trying to get me to donate to Greenpeace, it fucking erodes my desire to ever be friendly to anyone.

The people who just stand there with signs encouraging you to come up and talk to them about Jehovah's Witnessism OTOH are fine though. I absolutely don't want more gods in my life, but there's no false pretense and I can ignore them without being antisocial.
posted by aubilenon at 1:29 PM on August 17, 2019 [18 favorites]


Half the time a friendly stranger starts a conversation with me it ends with an invitation to join an MLM.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 1:49 PM on August 17, 2019 [7 favorites]


It is very, very rare that I do NOT talk to strangers, and perhaps not coincidentally, I am almost always happy (geopolitics aside). I do not encroach -- I usually say something light and completely ignorable in case they'd like to avoid conversation (and poor stevis23!, I hope my presence has never bothered you, personally) -- but people almost always pick up the thread.

I strike up conversations with toddlers and other tiny humans (from a safe distance, so as not to freak out any parents), and a few months ago, complimented a 6yo in the produce aisle on his goggles, jokingly asking if they were for swimming or science, and he very seriously (in a Young Sheldon manner) told me that he was a theoretical physicist and was going to win the Nobel Prize. His mother (sort of) tried to shush him in that "Don't bother the nice lady" way, but I smiled and asked him about the research for which he'd win, and he gauged my knowledge of holography and when he was suitably satisfied with my answer about light particles (yay, Star Trek!), we continued apace. Eventually, his mom joined the chat (about kids, science, education, travel) and she took my card. This lady, who was concerned her child was bothering me by chatting with a stranger, called and invited me to lunch a few weeks later, and she texted me from Italy the next month to give me a thumbs up on a restaurant recommendation I'd provided.

This kind of thing happens to me ALL THE TIME and it makes me super-happy. I have whatever is the opposite of RBF -- resting grandma face? -- and compliment people randomly on the colors they're wearing or their cool glasses, or generally try to have something light and funny to say to brighten their day. I am the epitome of the expression, "a stranger is just a friend you haven't met yet." People seem to be able to tell that I'm not trying to panhandle, proselytize, distract them for pickpocketing, or inveigle them in a conversation from which they would not be able to extricate themselves.

On elevators, in waiting rooms, OMG on airplanes. About a decade ago, I flew from a conference in Boston back home and struck up a conversation with my seat partner. (He was heading to Atlanta, where I was changing flights.) We talked about work, TV and book interests, his children, yadda yadda. We exchanged cards, and about four years later, with no conversation in the intervening time, he emailed me, said he'd be in my city, and asked if I still lived here, would I like to go to dinner. It was very clear that it was a friendly, platonic dinner, we went, had a charming meal at my favorite restaurant (which he really enjoyed), and we have (as of yet) never spoken again. Last week, in the grocery line, I commented on a tabloid magazine photo painting an older woman in an unflattering light (basically, just saying it was an unkind thing to do for profit), and had a lovely conversation with an octogenarian about how women are devalued for our looks at the very point in their lives where we often find our voices.

If someone shows a lack of inclination to chat (like, duh, they're wearing headphones), I'm absolutely respectful (and totally fine) with that, but 99% of the time, I find that people are happy to chat back and generally tell me about their lives. Maybe I'm just THAT adorable, but I suspect many people are hungering for human connection but for any of a variety of reasons (including fear of creeps, political arguments, guns, or unkindness), they don't make that first move.

And I do not AT ALL discount the fact that there are creepy men out there who take advantage of the friendliness of women to believe it means something it does not, and while the general consensus is that I am not unattractive, there's been no change from my 20s to my 50s in that most men take my chattiness as a benign social nicety.

I do recognize that I am lucky in that regard, but each of my close friends I met because I talked to a complete stranger in a random location. Before replying to this comment, I'd just gotten off the phone with a guy with whom I've been friends for 34 years -- because I struck up a conversation with him in an elevator.
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 2:25 PM on August 17, 2019 [81 favorites]


My absolute least favorite thing is people on the street who strike up a conversation and then it turns out are asking you for money.

Those people I cut dead (NB: for those unfamiliar with the expression, it's not as violent as it sounds). The ones who are upfront about what they want get at worst a polite no. But once in a while, I get a line that really throws me for a loop. Once I walked by a clipboard holder from Lambda Legal who looked me in my hairy face and said, "I bet your beard could beat up my beard."

I walked about four more strides before it clicked and I turned around to say, "OK, well played."
posted by aws17576 at 2:52 PM on August 17, 2019 [9 favorites]


(Yeah, I mean, obviously context is key; I would not approach people in all the cases in the article. Perhaps I should have made some sort of disclaimer! I have had countless bad interactions with strangers too.)
posted by ferret branca at 2:55 PM on August 17, 2019


I always feel like like any great night out at the bar with friends involves talking to some other people, like the difference between a normal night out and a really fun night out, and it's too bad because at least in most US major cities and particularly with people under 40 or 50 it seems like bars are more and more specifically regarded as places for cliques of friends to meet up outside of their apartments, not places where strangers should chat with each other.

I was talking to an Irish girl in NY once and she found it extremely bizarre that at NY bars and pubs it's just groups of friends keeping entirely to themselves in their own little spheres, whereas in Dublin everyone's mixing and mingling a bit more like "oh hello what are you all up to this evening how are you??" and it's a little more lighthearted and gregarious and fun. I've never been to Ireland but it sounded really nice; that type of behavior at a bar in the US seems to be regarded as sort of imposing/intrusive or even rude/outright weird - which is too bad because meeting people is fun and nice. I think people immediately get anxious about their ability to exit a conversation that they don't want to be in anymore mixed with a bit of classic American isolationism.
posted by windbox at 3:01 PM on August 17, 2019 [18 favorites]


I read this thread on my phone while I was waiting for my bagels instead of chatting with the woman who sold me the bagels.
posted by escabeche at 3:20 PM on August 17, 2019 [14 favorites]


University of BRITISH COLUMBIA psychologist Elizabeth Dunn and her colleague Gillian M. Sandstrom ...

Nicholas Epley, a University of CHICAGO behavioral scientist

The research was done on CANADIANS and MIDWESTERNERS. That's like saying all dogs are Labrador Retrievers. Those Canadians and Midwesterners are some of the nicest humans on Earth. The Space-time continuum operates differently there.
posted by mundo at 4:09 PM on August 17, 2019 [17 favorites]


My absolute least favorite thing is people on the street who strike up a conversation and then it turns out are asking you for money.

I don't remember the exact words to the best panhandling pitch I've received, but it was something close to, "Can I have a few bucks? I'm poor as fuck!" Concise.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 4:27 PM on August 17, 2019 [3 favorites]


The research was done on CANADIANS and MIDWESTERNERS. That's like saying all dogs are Labrador Retrievers. Those Canadians and Midwesterners are some of the nicest humans on Earth. The Space-time continuum operates differently there.

Can confirm, am from the Midwest, went to a national conference this year and was never surprised when people said where they were from. Got some weird looks trying to talk to some Californians at the beginning of the conference and learned to keep my mouth shut. The only people who struck up a conversation with me were Midwesterners and people trying to get me to move to Alaska.

Sometimes I think the reason it took me so long to realize I was autistic is Midwesterners are so fucking friendly, even if you're an obvious social disaster.
posted by brook horse at 4:43 PM on August 17, 2019 [21 favorites]


I am the kind of person who goes to new car auto shows, and most of the time when you get into a car to check out the interior, other people are doing the same, and you studiously ignore each other and get on with what you're doing so the next people in line can get a turn. Every so often there is a person who wants to have a chat with you since you've sat next to them in a car.

Well, no, not talk to me, of course. Just every woman I happen to be at the show with, they get in the car, and some guy gets in the other side and starts trying to chat them up. Over and over. Funny how nobody does that to me, or to the other guys I'm at the show with.

Happens enough that I've been asked by some of these women to stand next to the window as they check it the interior so they can talk at me about nothing so the inevitable guy cannot get an opening to say anything.
posted by davejay at 4:55 PM on August 17, 2019 [4 favorites]




American white guy here who lives in a city and often runs into strangers. YES. It is a spirit-lifting thing to talk to random people. I was waiting for a library branch to open yesterday and talked to two people. It made my day. It's not true that Americans are only good at happy-talk small-talk. It is surprising how often small talk turns into deep talk.
posted by kozad at 7:55 PM on August 17, 2019 [5 favorites]


I would like to talk to more strangers! I've been very lonely and it does make me happier and more depression-resilient to have a nice interaction with someone. But also putting myself out there recently has gotten me catcalled/yelled homophobically at/told to smile?? all for the first times. Pros and cons, genuinely, trying to teach myself social skills and juggling the lessons of sometimes people are nice and I don't need to be afraid and sometimes people are dangerous and I'm right to be afraid and sometimes I should stop avoiding people and sometimes people appreciate being avoided, like when I sat in the road in my pjs trying to get a cat to come to me and everyone who passed me studiously ignored me and I learned people don't care what I'm doing in public, which is a relief. People!
posted by gaybobbie at 8:00 PM on August 17, 2019 [12 favorites]


Strangers confide in me all the time. It used to weird me out, but i’ve gotten used to it. I’ll just smile at a cashier and the next thing i know i’ve heard all about her cheating spouse, her sick mother, how her favorite grandfather died. Recently a close friend of mine observed this happening. She’d gone to the bathroom while i was paying out tab at a cafe. When she came out, the otherwise put together woman in line behind me was sobbing after telling me about her abusive ex and her autistic son. I offered the woman my hand and she held it and cried while she apologized and asked if i thought she was a bad person. I said I didn’t think so and by the time I extricated myself from the scenario, I was kind of teary too. My friend was like, “ You’ve told me that kind of thing happens to you, but I’ve never seen it in the wild. That was intense.” And I was like, “Intense? You should have been in the Target checkout line last week with the woman who told me she was afraid her brother would die of a drug overdose in before she ever had a chance to to apologize to him for kicking him out of her house. That shit was intense.”
posted by thivaia at 8:27 PM on August 17, 2019 [15 favorites]


My mother talks to strangers all the time. I have never understood it. You and she together could probably conquer the world, cheese.

One time I was in Chicago for trial prep, extremely stressed and anxious, staying at...the Hilton? Anyway, I was walking out the door and this person coming in said something innocuous like "hello, how are you?" and I wish I had footage, because I turned to stare like WHY THE FUCK DO YOU SPEAK TO ME? and then I remembered, oh, I'm back in the Midwest, this is how normal persons here interact with each other.
posted by praemunire at 9:06 PM on August 17, 2019 [2 favorites]


strangers, especially strangers who aren't men, don't exist in the world for your entertainment, and chatting them up when they have a limited ability to escape is rude.
I am enough of a misanthrope that I probably won’t say anything on an elevator except “hi” or a brief smile before looking down or away. But my pet peeve is riding the elevator or walking through a grocery store or whatever with a young child. They say “hi” to someone who just looks away. I don’t really care what your malfunction is; in that case, you’re a monster—even Donald Trump would say “hello” back. I am aware this opinion probably makes me a Metafilter Monster but even I always reply to children, even though I’m a scary old guy.

I do not mean to imply you’re one of those people. But around a third of the time, that’s what seems to happen.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 9:14 PM on August 17, 2019 [6 favorites]


I‘m a giant misanthrope but like talking to strangers!

In general, I think surface level social contacts are grossly underrated. Often in my most asocial moods I‘m not able or willing to really meet/ socialize with friends or family, but just meeting the eye of the lady at the register, or a regular in the coffee shop line, will boost my mood to a ridiculous degree.

In my opinion this only works if these are not complete strangers but people you‘ve ‚seen around‘. These interactions really bring comfort to me and define being at home in my neighborhood.
posted by The Toad at 9:28 PM on August 17, 2019 [12 favorites]


...my pet peeve is riding the elevator or walking through a grocery store or whatever with a young child. They say “hi” to someone who just looks away. I don’t really care what your malfunction is; in that case, you’re a monster—even Donald Trump would say “hello” back. I am aware this opinion probably makes me a Metafilter Monster but even I always reply to children, even though I’m a scary old guy.

So at what age do you start trying to tell children that other people have their own desires and aren't required to go along with the childrens'? Three? Five? Ten? Fifty?

I am generally happy to make small talk with or otherwise entertain small kids, but I don't think that feeling is mandatory, and modeling for children that people who don't comply with them are "monsters" is uncool.

Or, in a more age appropriate way:

A person you want to talk to who walks away from you is not breaking a rule or trying to hurt you, they are doing their best to be kind to you and themselves at that moment. Maybe they're very busy, or don't know what to say, or don't want to talk to you right now. You don't have to talk to people if you don't want to, because you're your own person, just like them.
posted by bagel at 10:24 PM on August 17, 2019 [2 favorites]


Strangers talk to me all the time, and I'm not always comfortable with it, but you never know who is open to radicalisation.

Sometimes they want a cigarette or a lighter, sometimes they've recognised something on a shirt or the like, or overheard what you're talking about, but it's almost always something that leaves me more cheerful than before.

I spend so much time being told that everyone hates the idea of socialism, that they're opposed to being helped, but I find that pretty much everyone can be talked to. Older folks remember times when the unions meant something, younger folks are amazed to hear that there has always been resistance, that it is ongoing and there is hope to be had.

So many people are bursting with rage at their conditions, at the indignities that are expected of them and theirs. Yes, it's not always well-focused. But if I don't take the time to talk to a stranger about how the housing market IS terrible but no, Chinese immigrants are not the problem, they're a scapegoat, I often think that no-body else will.

Do I always get through? No, I'm quite sure I don't, and the stranger that gets actively involved is even rarer. But next time they see Sky News running some scare story about foreign investors, maybe they'll remember that the host also owns 5 houses.

So I try not to pass up on opportunities to speak to strangers any more.
Sometimes I'd rather be doing something else, even if that's just my earphones, but how can I in good conscience, while safe, pass on an opportunity to make political arguments?
posted by Acid Communist at 10:34 PM on August 17, 2019 [3 favorites]


A couple weeks ago I was in a hardware store buying a few random things. When I got to the light bulbs I found myself doing that polite "excuse me" thing one does when stepping between another shopper and the wares they are considering. After about the third one, it became clear that both myself and the woman also buying light bulbs were having the same problem: there are approximately 5000 varieties of bulb and damned if anyone knows what they need. I made some offhand remark like "why can't there just be 4 types of bulb," she responded by saying that she planned to buy several and return the ones that turned out to be unsuitable. I said it was a good plan, then made my choices and we exchanged good luck wishes regarding light bulbs and I left.

It was quietly delightful. This was in the Midwest, however, so maybe light bulb shoppers on the coasts are more aggro.
posted by axiom at 11:54 PM on August 17, 2019 [6 favorites]


Northerner terrifies Londoners by saying 'hello' is the clip I thought of.

It really depends what mood I'm in. And, living in a small city, I wonder how many of the people I don't know are parents of my students, or even distantly related cousins of my husband. They might know who I am, even if I don't know who they are! I see people I know a lot already as I go out, (again, very small city) so I usually have a chat when I go out- though of course these people are already known to me.

However when I'm in Melbourne I totally understand the 'why are you talking to me' thing- maybe it's a big city phenomenon?
posted by freethefeet at 1:12 AM on August 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


If this were true everyone would love working customer service. Chatty damned strangers, all day! (goes for double if your present as female of course! exciting!)
posted by zinful at 2:08 AM on August 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


This is one of the things I miss most about smoking. In my experience, strangers were always having deep, interesting conversations for a few minutes minutes over a cigarette or two. If it ever got uncomfortable, you could always stop and head inside.
posted by galvanized unicorn at 3:36 AM on August 18, 2019 [4 favorites]


I am a dangerous combination of having “tell me your life story” imprinted on my forehead AND am a big time small talker myself, especially in elevators and while wine shopping. Sue me.

I love the feeling of getting a stranger to crack a smile or chuckle. It’s the best feeling knowing we shared a brief fleeting moment of laughter, even how small it may have been.
posted by floweredfish at 4:50 AM on August 18, 2019 [9 favorites]


I find it exceedingly difficult to start conversations with strangers out in "the wild". If someone talks to me, I'm ok and will go along with it, but there's still quite a bit of social anxiety and it's rarely noticeably enjoyable. I'm from and currently live in the Midwest, maybe my soul belongs elsewhere.
posted by Sparky Buttons at 6:22 AM on August 18, 2019 [3 favorites]


Since you can never know what’s in another’s head, I assume that everyone harbors secret pain and try to telegraph that I won’t add to it. Smiles are cheap and easy to give away, as is eye contact. And it helps to pay attention. The big thing: everyone secretly wants to be listened to, and very few people actually listen.

I’ve been called a people magnet and indeed often end up engaged in random chat. The secret is asking a question and making it clear that the answer matters. I’ve had people thank me, hug me, shake my hand, etc., just because I paid attention as they spoke their piece, be it “my cat is sick and I’m worried about her,” or “I just got a new job!”

The irony is that I generally prefer solitude. I am not gregarious, but I am curious and aspire to be kind. There are wonderful stories walking around; confidences shared by strangers are gifts.
posted by kinnakeet at 6:36 AM on August 18, 2019 [11 favorites]


I talk to strangers everyday online. Why doesn't that count?
posted by Selena777 at 8:14 AM on August 18, 2019 [4 favorites]


that type of behavior at a bar in the US seems to be regarded as sort of imposing/intrusive or even rude/outright weird

This happens at gay bars all the time!
posted by Automocar at 8:24 AM on August 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


Selena777, I expect it does! That’s one of the reasons I love mefi.
posted by ferret branca at 8:44 AM on August 18, 2019


Yep, put me down as a "misanthrope who loves small talk, actually." And if we're bringing up regionalism, I will also say...I'm from the South. Maybe this is just a type of code-switching I do around people I suspect are more conservative, but I've always known it was important to remind the Limbaugh-listeners that I am a person and not a most-hated demographic.

Anyway, small talk rules. I hate talking about heavier things with strangers -- I kind of hate talking about heavier things with friends -- so control any potential social interactions by keeping them feather-light. Ask someone whether they think the Auburn logo has actually changed, or if it'll rain later today, or whether they've gotten used to the new credit card beep. It's somehow a lot less stressful that being quiet.
posted by grandiloquiet at 9:20 AM on August 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


The research was done on CANADIANS and MIDWESTERNERS. That's like saying all dogs are Labrador Retrievers. Those Canadians and Midwesterners are some of the nicest humans on Earth. The Space-time continuum operates differently there.

You've never been to the University of Chicago, have you?
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:50 AM on August 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


You've never been to the University of Chicago, have you?

Those people are imports.
posted by praemunire at 10:09 AM on August 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


MetaTalk has a currently open thread about talking to other MeFites (strangers, more or less) on a scheduled basis. People seem to be enjoying it thus far.
posted by hippybear at 10:29 AM on August 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


Unfortunately the academic journal articles in the NPR story are paywalled but a New York Times Opinion Article described the research method. The University of Chicago study was done at a Chicago Area Train Station, not at the actual University of Chicago Campus. Here's a quote:
The behavioral scientists Nicholas Epley and Juliana Schroeder approached commuters in a Chicago area train station and asked them to break the rules. In return for a $5 Starbucks gift card, these commuters agreed to participate in a simple experiment during their train ride. One group was asked to talk to the stranger who sat down next to them on the train that morning. Other people were told to follow standard commuter norms, keeping to themselves. By the end of the train ride, commuters who talked to a stranger reported having a more positive experience than those who had sat in solitude.
Personally I think strangers talking a little more could be a good thing (if all parties welcomed it of course). It would be interesting to see this study replicated in other parts of the country. Social Norms vary from location to location and I wonder the effect geography would have on study results.
posted by mundo at 11:51 AM on August 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


One of the best random conversations I have was where a stranger and I were having a bit of a crisis of choice over a damned water filter... there is seriously an aisle full of them available, and we were both clearly overwhelmed trying to figure out the difference and not spend any more than we needed to. We ended up approaching it from both sides of the aisle, researching on our phones, sharing info.

It was actually a great experience - but there’s also no way to leave that conversation on a graceful note. “Have fun.... filtering water” is how I think I ended it before I vanished in a puff of awkwardness.
posted by MysticMCJ at 11:58 AM on August 18, 2019 [4 favorites]


So, at one point in my life, I moved to La Grande, OR. It's not close to anywhere and it's pretty small (under 15K) and it's a college town but the college isn't that well known (Eastern Oregon University)...

I lived very close to the main strip in town and there was a bar there that was mostly people from the area that had a short-order restaurant in front and drinks in the back and I could get a 9oz Coors Light there for 90 cents and I could drink there basically all night for $10 and still leave a good tip at the end.

I had no connections in town, no context, I moved there with my husbear who was teaching at the university. So I found this bar and I started going. 3-4 nights a week. I soon made friends with the bartender (that's their job on some level) but I didn't talk to many others while I was there. They were generous with their TV remote so I could often put on something that wasn't awful and just sit and drink and smoke and enjoy being amongst people. I'd find myself engaged with people here and there, bar talking being its own thing, and I quite enjoy hanging out in a bar and chatting with people.

But it was after about 9 months of me being there, suddenly the locals (whom I'd seen and who had seen me night after night) started engaging with me. People came up to me and sat down and asked me directly about myself. Others also joined in. Over the course of maybe 2 weeks I suddenly met everyone and had been invited to a backyard barbecue and when I walked into the bar people would turn and say hello... It was like a switch had been flipped.

I guess the point of this story is that sometimes, you're a stranger far longer than you might expect, but if you are simply present, eventually you aren't.
posted by hippybear at 12:08 PM on August 18, 2019 [10 favorites]


I talk to everyone. Partly because I go to the same grocery store, the same pharmacy, the same pot store, and the same liquor store consistently and make small talk and jokes with the workers there. I know them a bit and they know me a bit.

While I was job-hunting, one of the cashiers at the liquor store asked me more about my job hunt than anyone other than my mom. I have good friends, but they have lives and families and school or jobs and my interactions with them happen maybe every week or two. And none of them ever asked me about how the job hunt was going.

When I walk past people in my neighborhood if they make eye contact I smile and say hi. I too hate that feeling of being "looked-through" especially when you're passing each other on the sidewalk. The youngest rarely make eye-contact, the oldest ones look surprised and the ones in-between are about 50/50.

The worst experience I've had with being "looked-through" was in the Bay Area. I had a breast cancer scare and needed to go in for a needle biopsy. I changed into a paper hospital gown and went to the waiting room. It was a small room with chairs lining the walls. There were 3-4 other paper-gowned women in the waiting room, all of us topless and vulnerable and carefully ignoring each other. While I was sitting there I realized that I was terrified of might happen and came to the realization that since I have no family on the west coast and, at that time, no friends that I would have to go through cancer treatment alone.

I started ugly crying. Silently as I do but with gallons of snot and tears and kleenex. For once I felt scared and incapable of taking care of myself. No one else in the room spoke to me or acknowledged me or even made eye contact.

I talk to homeless people a lot. Since they're outside I sit down and chat with them for a while.

But I'm really lonely, I spent most of my formative years in small towns in the midwest and I believe that everyone has "a story to tell that will stop. Your. Heart"*.

* from Claudia Shear's monologue "Blown Sideways Through Life"
posted by bendy at 4:54 PM on August 18, 2019 [7 favorites]


I've posted before about chatting with strangers.

From the same thread.
posted by bendy at 5:22 PM on August 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


The research that we report better well-being after speaking to strangers isn't controversial, it's the question "why" that is interesting. One line of reasoning says that it's because with strangers we're free to be our authentic selves - in our interactions at home and at work, to varying degrees, we put up a facade to meet the expectations of those around us, and maintaining this facade costs energy - it's a form of emotional labor. Being inauthentic harms our well being, while being authentic enhances it. Those who have a large amount of power need to fake it less, and they too report higher levels of well being.

With strangers - especially on the internet where there is a degree of safety in anonymity - there's no need to fake it, so we get to experience a few minutes of being our authentic selves.
posted by xdvesper at 12:07 AM on August 19, 2019 [4 favorites]


With strangers - especially on the internet where there is a degree of safety in anonymity - there's no need to fake it, so we get to experience a few minutes of being our authentic selves.

Eh. Moving about the world as a woman, I certainly do not feel "safe" being authentic with strangers. I am vague at best, outright deceptive at worst about where I live, what I do, where I'm going, what I'm doing.

Some Lyft driver asks me am I married, do I have kids -- is that a hostile question? I'm on my way to a kid's birthday, holding a wrapped gift that is clearly for a child, so it's not out of left field, but it's also pretty personal. If I say yes, then I have to invent some damn kids! If I say no, then what? (In this case, a long and hostile lecture about how I was too old to have neither husband or kids, and was wasting my life! De-fucking-lightful!)

It certainly does not feel like a freedom from managing or meeting others' expectations -- quite the opposite! I feel required to manage and meet the completely mysterious expectations of people so they do not harm me.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:41 AM on August 19, 2019 [4 favorites]


This was clearly American research. And probably not applicable to all Americans. I’m pretty sure that talking to strangers as a way to become happier is not a viable strategy for most Swedes. Not for the ones talking and not for the strangers being spoken to. As a chatty and lonely gal I sometimes do it anyway, and my biggest successes tend to be chatting with strangers who appear to have roots from a different culture. YMMV.

People are absolutely not obligated to respond when my young grandson says hi. He lights up when they do so naturally I prefer when that happens. Mostly it doesn’t and when he asks why, I mention that strangers don’t usually respond when I say hi either.
posted by Bella Donna at 12:13 PM on August 19, 2019 [5 favorites]


Mostly it doesn’t and when he asks why, I mention that strangers don’t usually respond when I say hi either.

Much of the space American Males inhabit while out in public involves some system of acknowledgements of another's presence but without risking actual verbal engagement. There's always a moment of eye contact to begin, but from there, it might be jabbing one's chin toward them, or a nod, or a finger to the brim of a cap (worn or imaginary)... Sometimes it's a very deliberate demonstrative forceful sigh if that's appropriate to the common experience. The possibilities are more than I can number here, but there are a lot of them and most men seem to know them or be able to intuit them from context cues. Most of the time these are met in-kind from the other person and there is no other moment of interaction required.

It's one of the strangest little things about American society, I think. This game of recognizing another being in one's company, but only offering recognition not actually interacting.
posted by hippybear at 8:36 PM on August 19, 2019


most men seem to know them or be able to intuit them from context cues. Most of the time these are met in-kind from the other person and there is no other moment of interaction required... This game of recognizing another being in one's company, but only offering recognition not actually interacting.

I would give half my worldly goods for the right to be included as a female (hu)man in this men-only circle of mutual quiet non-intrusive recognition. it's enough to make a woman cry or be sick, just to think of all this bounty around us that we can't have.

I recognize what you describe because, being a woman, I get this silent benign undemanding fellowship from other women all day long, and god knows I value it. it's not completely the same, women aren't as uniform as men are and aren't so consistently rule-followers, so you can't count on it. but enough of us are law-abiding to make life easy. right up until we leave amazon island or the corner sephora or the ladies' volunteer volunteerism seminar or wherever, and then it's not so nice.
posted by queenofbithynia at 10:02 PM on August 19, 2019


God, that is such an NPR article. Feigns towards saying something useful, up ends up ignoring many of the major issues surrounding the idea and asserts a class based privilege as normative.

You'll feel better striking up a conversation with someone whose job depends on responding politely as if the subject of the conversation doesn't matter as long as the person paying gets their attention.

It then tries to stretch the idea from a customer/employee exchange that often has certain limits or "rules" built in to it due to the amount of time a transaction might take, though those rules are frequently ignored to the detriment of the employees own mental welfare, even more so with women in open ended customer exchange relationships like waitress, barista, or bartender, to suggesting the same dynamic holds for other sites of potential like buses where the same kinds of limitations on interaction do not hold. Getting a cup of coffee make take a minute or two to complete an exchange of pleasantries, riding a bus may be for miles without any chance of getting away from the person attempting to hold a conversation that isn't a pleasant one other than getting off the bus early or trying to shut down the conversation on the bus which can lead to hurting someone's feelings or outright aggression.

Conversations can make us feel good about ourselves for being validated by another person, but our sense of validation doesn't necessarily mean the other person feels likewise. By all means be polite, pleasant and acknowledge those you come in contact with in necessary exchanges, but be attentive to their position and the requirements of it. be attentive to how people are responding and don't push yourself on them especially when there is no opportunity to disengage without some risk of greater stress from being trapped in an unwelcome exchange than in any conversational outlet. Saying hello to someone is fine when there is no sense of expectation being sent for a return of greeting, much less any extended conversation when one is in a shared space that doesn't allow for ease of exit without hardship. Acknowledgement that demands a response is no longer simply acknowledgement, but an attempt to coerce validation for one's own benefit or worse.

There are places and times where conversations make sense, if all the parties involved share a sense of comfort around the interactions. Familiarity helps build that sense of comfort, but that takes time which is why trying to force conversation before comfort has developed can often feel threatening for showing disregard for the space others might require, mentally and physically. Working in customer service as I have for many, many years, there are plenty of times where pleasant conversations have occurred that add a nice feeling of worth to the day, but there are also plenty of absolutely hateful exchanges I've been forced to endure from people who abuse my status as an employee to monologue about things that are tedious or worse. Conversation is an exchange and all parties involved in it need to feel more or less equally interested and aligned to the subject for it to be worthwhile and validating for everyone. Judging that can be difficult of course, which is why being attentive to the situation instead of just trying to feel good about yourself matters.
posted by gusottertrout at 11:53 PM on August 19, 2019


I am generally happy to make small talk with or otherwise entertain small kids, but I don't think that feeling is mandatory, and modeling for children that people who don't comply with them are "monsters" is uncool.
Oh, I don’t tell the kids. That would be deeply uncool. But if you think returning a greeting from a toddler is “complying,” and you’re going to “stick it to the man,” then I hope you never need any help from my end of the social compact (and I mean the rhetorical “you,” not you, of course).

As for “how old before you tell them that some people don’t want to talk,” I’d say four. We’re not talking about preventing rudeness, we’re talking about inculcating anti-rudeness. And the general sense of trust in their fellows that children should have.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 6:28 PM on August 20, 2019 [4 favorites]


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