I talk to strangers a lot. I was told once that this was un-London of me, but I can’t help it. People are just so… interesting.
One time my friend and I got onto the Overground, where a group of seemingly rowdy guys occupied one end of the carriage. The only seat available was next to them so I took it and told her to sit on my lap (what is personal space and cupcakes between friends?). The men hooted. I responded with “Hey it’s the best seat in the house!” The one guy had the super fun idea of playing a ring game where one person gives a topic and the rest of us have to name things in that topic until someone is stumped. Example:
“Songs with women names as their title!” “Ms Jackson!” “Ruby!!” “ROOXAAAAAAANNE! You don’t have to put on the red liiiight”
By the end of the train ride we made the rest of the carriage immensely jealous that they weren’t having fun with us.
I hit it off with the saleslady at the mall the other day. Now every time I see her, she tells me something new about her life. She’s dating a very good looking prison officer…but he has 2 kids. She’s not sure she’s ready to be a mum. I told her she’d make a great mum and she looked as if I had made her day. I hope everything goes well with them.
Another time a man in Japan drove me around and helped me sell my stuff so that my suitcases wouldn’t be too overweight when I left . His rationale for helping me (in addition to seeing me drag a bag of clothing down the highway like an exotic hobo) was that his daughter was about my age and studying in Ireland and he’d like to think that someone would help her if she was in the same situation.
While waiting for a bus one day, a little old lady regaled me with stories of her time as a part of the Royal Navy – running along the beach every day, managing the phone lines and “the very dashing soldiers – although I didn’t get to meet any!” she giggled conspiratorially to me, but then her tone grew serious. “It wasn’t a good time in our history. I’m glad things are safer now.”
Then there was the time my friend and I met an American man in a hotel restaurant and ended up sharing a table with him for dinner. We spoke for hours about the differences between America, England, St. Lucia and Japan (“why is baseball popular in Japan?” “The same reason why Country and Western is popular in St Lucia. Because America left us the weirdest things”). In the end, he paid for our meals, saying that our company was worth it and he knew what it was like to be a broke student.
There is so much kindness in the world, and so many kind and interesting people.
And yet right after I began to write about my positive experiences with strangers, I had a thoroughly uncomfortable experience. I jog at night so that no one can see my bum wobbling but I never go further than a few kilometres from where I live. A strange man found it appropriate to follow me in his car, parking just up ahead and yelling at me to get in and talk. He did this in the middle of the night while I was running, and when I kept running his response was to slowly drive after me and continue to try to gain my attention and more importantly my compliance.
Now, it’s easy to say that perhaps he was lost, that he couldn’t find an address on google maps and needed me to help him find his way. But from my perspective he was encroaching on my personal space in a real and terrifying way not once but multiple times and understanding the hint that I didn’t want to talk only made him redouble his efforts by following me in his car.
And so it makes me so very uncomfortable when I see men on social media (and some women) say “not all men are like that!” Because here’s the thing: I know. I know not all men are violent, I know not all men have bad intentions, I know not all assailants are male. But for every three people I’ve had dance battles with in a supermarket aisle, I’ve had one person remind me that the world is not full of those kinds of people. The people I need to remember are the ones that might have less than innocent ideas. And that is a scary thought.
If you are not one of those people, thank you for being a decent person. But if you know someone who can be please let them know how not to be. Victims don’t often get that chance