How to Talk to Strangers

Photo via John Hudak

No doubt when you were young your parents warned you of the potential danger of talking to strangers. What they didn’t tell you is that once you reach adulthood talking to strangers is an invaluable skill, as we are required to rely on them for pretty much everything. Whether you need your land lord to fix a window you broke in a heated game of indoor mini golf or a stern faced Russian woman to perfectly groom your pubic hair for a date on Saturday night, we need to be able to interact with strangers in a way that doesn’t involve curling up in the foetal position on the floor and rocking back and forth. Outlined below are three strangers you will deal with on a regular basis and tips to make sure that your conversations with these providers of essential services don’t leave you blurting out embarrassing revelations like “my cousin asked to see my junk when I was eight” to avoid an awkward silence.

Stranger #1: Hairdressers

Topics to discuss:
Always talk about your plans for the weekend with hairdressers. However, don’t talk about your actual plans, which for me usually involve men’s tracksuit pants, a piping hot cup of green tea and 18 back-to-back episodes of The Daily Show. Hairdressers want to know that the haircut they laboured over for a good hour and a half is going to be seen by as many people as possible in the most fabulous and exotic of places. Tell your hairdresser that you are going to the exclusive opening of a new club called Sponge’ where they have live giraffes, an hourly stage show where 50 trannies all dressed like Lady Gaga fight each other and the drinks are served in various old shoes from the Salvation Army. Invent names of fake celebrities that are rumoured to be attending the opening: Spanish poet Rodrigo LaToya Del Burrito, Norwegian twin homosexual ten-year-old art prodigies Bjorn and Vjorn Sporgendorg and octogenarian blues singer Beau “Night Terrors” McGrady. The hairdresser will be so impressed with your booming social life and will receive much fulfillment knowing that so many of the world’s hippest people will gaze upon the work of hair art they have created for you.

Topics to avoid:
University. I don’t know why, but every time I find myself in a discussion with a hairdresser as they unsympathetically hack away at my locks, the subject of my degree comes up and the hairdresser feels as though they need to defend their decision not to receive a tertiary education. They give stock standard, defensive responses such as “School was never my thing” or “I’m street smart, not book smart.” What they don’t seem to realise is that I was never attempting to imply that I am somehow better than them for deciding to go to uni. In fact, I will probably never earn as much money as a successful hairdresser. It is a completely legitimate profession that will always be necessary. Will publications always need writers to pen self-indulgent, humorous yet completely vapid prose? No way. Will people always need to get haircuts? Yes way. Case closed.

Stranger #2: Taxi drivers

Topics to discuss:
When faced with a taxi driver late on a Friday or Saturday night, I always try to be the point of difference in their night otherwise filled with vomit-coated floors and randy teens getting it on in the backseat. I ask them about their night which usually prompts them to spit forth a hate-filled rant about their unsatisfactory working conditions, their tiredness and general distaste for life. And I sit there quietly, nod and throw in the occasional agreeing “mmmm”, because a) I’m not really listening, and b) if anyone deserves to complain about their job it’s a taxi driver. They drive drunk idiots around for a living. My mum gives me grief if I ask her to drop me five minutes down the road to the train station, and I’m not even flashing my boobs at cars out the window or screaming “what the fuck is this Bollywood shit? Chuck on Nova!”

Topics to avoid:
I’m not going to generalise and say that every taxi driver has conservative political views, but about 80 per cent of the ones I’ve encountered have. One particular night, a taxi driver picked me up from the opening night of the Queer Film Festival at the Brisbane Powerhouse. The polite young Indian guy asked me what event I had been at, and I explained to him that I had been dancing the night away with transvestites in 6-inch platforms, shirtless, grinding gay men and androgynous lesbians the entire evening and that it had been incredibly fun. “Lesbians?” he asked me tentatively, “so girls were kissing each other, yes?” “Yes…” I replied, worried that I had veered into some kind of hallowed territory and would be taken into an alleyway and bashed for even associating with such sinners. He didn’t seem outraged. Instead, like an awkward 12-year-old boy he giggled uncontrollably and interrogated me relentlessly for more details which I happily offered. “We don’t have many lesbians where I am from,” he explained “one time I drove two girls home and they were…they were…” (insert more uncontrollable giggling) “kissing each other in the backseat! They got out at the same house!”  From this story you would think that lesbians are a great topic to bring up with any cab driver, however I can assure you that the majority of them aren’t as adorably wide-eyed and fascinated as this guy was. I recommend that you treat any cab ride like a first date and avoid any discussion of politics and religion.

Stranger #3: Doctors

Topics to discuss:
Your illness would be a good start.

Topics to avoid:
While waiting for the doctor to write you a prescription, try not to fill the awkward silence by talking about your additional “ailments”. Issues such as “my baby toe feels really itchy today” aren’t particularly debilitating, and by bringing them up your in-and-out, quick 35 dollar session could easily turn into you paying thousands of dollars in cat scans, x-rays and rectal examinations just because you were trying to avoid an awkward moment with a stranger. Keep your mouth shut and enjoy the scratching of the doctor’s pen, the ticking of the clock and the sweet sounds of a colicky infant screaming outside in the waiting room.
Written by Soph Kassay, a legend with an infatuation for Danielle Haim. She’s raw and honest and throws you everything you want and more. Read her other articles here.

Categories: Short & Sharp
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