Saturday, 9 May 2009

It's amazing what happens when you talk to strangers...

When we moved to London 10 years ago from Scotland, we were really puzzled by the fact that nobody spoke on public transport. Or queues. Or on railway platforms. We just found this odd as we were quite used to having a wee chat with whoever was beside us in the bus queue. But not in London. No no no. It's just not the done thing.

So over the years we've adopted this silent commuter rule and rarely make eye contact, never mind strike up a conversation, with fellow commuters. Sadly, the silent rule soon infects the rest of your life as well as the daily commute.

It was with a mixture of delight and suspicion that we realised that the silent rule is quite often suspended in the presence of small children. At last! Proof that everyone else was human and capable of the art of conversation! Just as long as Miniegg was with me, people would happily chat away, usually about their own baby or grandchild. And as Miniegg has grown and learned to talk himself, people will ask his name and answer his questions. Which I think is just lovely.

Of course, sometimes you don't want to talk to the funny lonely lady with the faint whiff of urine in the doctor surgery who keeps stroking you newborn's delicate cheek (aargh! give me the disinfectant now!). But there are so many interesting people out there and all it takes is a simple hello to make new friends sometimes.

Today was a perfect example. We were sitting having a picnic (back at Emmets Garden to explore Toys Hill next door) when 2 vintage cars pulled up and parked next to us. Of course Miniegg and his dad were agog. The cars were real beauties and had obviously been loved and cared for (cars are not my thing but even I could see the appeal in these lovely old cars). The driver of one of the cars, a vintage black Ford Model T, jumped out and started looking under the bonnet of the car. Miniegg, being the curious vehicle-obsessed 3 year old that he his, wanted to know what the man was doing. Now, at the moment, I'm trying not to fall into the parental trap of claiming "I don't know" as an easy option. So I suggested Miniegg ask the man what he was doing. Which he did. Well, before we knew what was happening, Miniegg had charmed these people enough to let him sit behind the wheel of their precious vintage Ford Model T! Not only that, but in an amazing conincidence, the car had the same name as our Miniegg!

It really got me thinking. Children are naturally inquisitive and think nothing of asking the nearest person a question to satisfy their hunger for knowledge. Why do adults have to turn into stiff, polite, easily embarrassed beings? Why do we quash our own desire for knowledge just to spare our blushes?

I wish I had the confidence Miniegg has when talking to 'strangers'. I'm so proud of the fact that he thinks nothing of playing with whatever child he comes across. It's so sad that all strangers must be viewed with suspicion until they have proved themselves in some way or another. Would our lives not be much richer if we ventured to say a few words to these strangers we see everyday. The strangers who live just a few doors away. The strangers who take the same train as us every day. The strangers with the funky boots we'd love to have.

Children really can teach us so much. Miniegg made 5 new friends today (he'll probably never meet them again, but he had a super game of hide and seek, chase, football and got to sit behind the wheel of a vintage car). I made no new friends today.

So from now on, I'm going to tell funky-boots stranger that I love her boots, I'm going to smile and say good morning to my neighbours and I'm going to find new friends everywhere I go.

Well...I'll at least make eye contact.

As long as they look at me first.


When was the last time you made a new friend? Do you abide by the silent commuter rule or do you like to chat away? Let me know and maybe we can both make a new friend today!

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