I like to talk to people. Yes, I’m one of those who’ll happily engage in small talk with just about anyone, although most of the time I have a problem starting conversations with strangers. I get that small talk bothers a lot of people and I respect that. The last thing I want to do is impose on someone who’d rather be alone with their own thoughts. There’s nothing wrong with silence. There are a couple of guys I see regularly on the bus who always sit together. Sometimes they’re talking; sometimes they’ll have extensive discussions that draw in three or four other regular riders, the conversation only dropping off as everybody gets dropped off at their regular stops. And sometimes these two guys just sit together, side by side, one with a thick book, the other with a newspaper, in total silence.
I always feel a little awkward when I’m the only rider on the bus. Does the driver want to talk? How do I know? If the driver’s been laughing and talking with other riders who then got off that’s a pretty good sign that, yes, the driver does want to talk, that they’re one of those drivers who really likes to talk. Most of the time if they’re that type they’ll start up the conversation with me which takes some of the pressure off, but until that happens I’m not sure. Bus drivers run the spectrum. Some want to talk, some want to be left alone, and some are okay with talking but have trouble starting conversations.
There were only three of us on the bus: the driver, an older guy dressed in jeans and a ragged flannel shirt, and me. There’d also been a teenage boy, but he’d gotten off at the last stop.
“Did you have a good day, Jim?” the driver asked loudly.
The older guy didn’t respond. He just sat in his seat staring at his hands.
I’m not sure how long the silence went on but then the driver said, “I guess it’s a ‘don’t talk to Cathy’ kind of day.”
She chuckled, and I said, “Maybe he didn’t hear you.”
The driver didn’t say anything. I felt really awkward, like I’d accidentally intruded on a private conversation. Either that or for some reason the driver thought I was Jim.
That’s a great picture you have painted there, with words, of how things are on buses. In the U.K., it’s a little easier for us to deal with decisions about conversations with the driver – there are signs up front that say, ‘please do not talk to the driver’. So most people don’t. Generally, the only people standing up front talking to the driver while he is driving the bus either can’t read or don’t care for rules. I quite like rule-breakers and smile when I see old ladies tutting and muttering comments to each other because someone isn’t doing as they are told. My favourite thing is listening to conversations on buses.
The funny thing is there are signs on U.S. buses that say “Please do not talk to the driver” too but a lot of people, including the drivers, ignore them. I’ve seen some drivers turned halfway around in their seat looking backward and talk to people behind them. I guess some drivers here are a little more chatty, and there are fewer old ladies who tut at those who aren’t following the rules.
I will talk to anyone that stands or sits still long enough. It was always so embarrassing for my kids when they would find out I didn’t know the person. I was even warned of the danger by my four year old.
That’s kind of a shame that your four year old is telling you not to talk to strangers. Sometimes you learn the most interesting things talking to strangers. And, hey, isn’t everyone a stranger until you get to know them?
I’m a talker too. The most recent conversation I had with a stranger happened to be on a clothing optional beach. My teens were mortified that I had taken them there and even more so that I was talking to a naked man. I kept my clothes on but was tempted.
That’s fantastic. And impressive that you were able to talk to a naked man without being distracted at all. On a clothing optional beach though I can see why you can take it in stride. It just becomes really normal.
That’s awkward. People don’t know how to talk to each other anymore.
It is awkward and kind of depressing. I need to practice talking to strangers.
Dammit, Jim–I’m a doctor, not a conversationalist!
It’s the only logical thing to do.
I have such social anxiety that I fear I sometimes come off as anti-social or stuck up. Couldn’t be further from the truth, but for some reason my brain has such a hard time forming coherent words when talking face to face with people I don’t know. Thankfully Al Gore invented the internet where I seem to have a much easier go at it.
The internet has made everything better. It’s connected us all. That’s something I keep in mind when people walk by me staring at their phones. It seems anti-social but really they’re connecting with other people.
When I first arrived in Sydney from a small country town I was very happy to smile, chat on public transport etc – then I learned that this is not what city people do. And if you do those things, guys will think you fancy them, and then you have a battle getting rid of them. So I developed a nice resting bitch face and became a proper Sydney resident. Then I moved to the US south and strangers always want to chat, and at first it freaked me out a bit – does this person want money? Do they want to have sex with me? Why are they talking to a stranger if they don’t want either of those things? Now that I’ve got used to it, it’s kind of nice.
It’s nice to know that southern hospitality is a real thing. In fact I was once extremely glad to be able to give some directions to a small group of Australians riding a Nashville bus and trying to figure out where they were going. And the thought of having sex with any of them never even crossed my mind, or, I suspect, theirs either. I did want them to have a nice time but I don’t think that’s what any of us were thinking about.
Who’s Cathy? I wonder if it’s a “don’t talk to Ann” kind of day. That might be awkward.
Every day seems to be a “talk to Ann” kind of day, fortunately, although now I find myself wondering if the driver’s name was Cathy or Kathy.