Talking to strangers

Growing up, we rely on our parents to teach us how to live, how to communicate with other individuals and how to function in life. They tell us many things, not all we remember. Yet, even though we may forget everything, they expect us to keep one lesson in mind, no matter what. That lesson is “Under no circumstances, should you talk to strangers”. It makes sense now, the world is a dangerous place and you do not know a strangers intentions. As a child in particular, you are vulnerable to influence and unable to protect yourself. Yet, some of the scariest monsters are the ones we claim to know best. I digress though. As we grow older we realize that this lesson is incomplete and that we talk to strangers all the time –  when we try to make new friends, when we ask for directions, when we want to buy something or even when we are looking to sell something to someone.

Yet, how many of us actually try to talk to to our fellow passengers on the plane? In many ways you share a relationship with these people that is longer and more intimate than your encounters with college professors, dates or even flatmates. After all, within a small space you watch this stranger, eat, sleep, talk and even watch a certain movie or listen to particular music for as much as 7 hours or more at a stretch. If pressed you can reveal so much about this stranger in 7 hours than you can about a friend you have known for years.

Yet, many of us never bother to go beyond the polite smile or a step further beyond “hello, thats my seat”. Thats not an attack on anyone, it is simply a reflection of how people are nowadays – we are more social on the internet, but less so in person.

I myself have sat in flights where I haven’t even said anything to the person next to me, so its not for everyone. It depends on a lot of factors – your personality, mood at that time and whether you believe the stranger will respond to your bravery in a positive way.

These easter holidays, I had a unique experience – I was on my way back to the UK and in my flight from KL to Dubai, I was sitting next to two individuals, who seemed to be friends with each other. My first impressions of them were that they were nice and polite individuals because they greeted me with huge smiles and a “hello” but that was it. We didn’t speak a word to each other for the next six hours of what was a seven hour flight.

An hour before we were to land though, I noticed that the lady sitting in the aisle seat was working hard on a poster presentation and the man next to her (and me) was sitting with a contended smile on his face, just glad to be in the moment. At this point I had, had my laptop out and was working on an assignment, but I had hit a dead end. Frustrated and bored, me and the stranger next to me started a conversation that soon included his friend. We got on like a house on fire and before we realized it the plane was about to land and so our conversation was suspended in anticipation of being on solid ground again.

As the plane landed, I wished them goodbye, thinking I would never see them again.  To my surprise, however,  they asked me if I would like to continue our conversation over coffee as three of us would be stuck in transit for hours.

From then on for the next few hours, we hung out together. Once coffee was done they decided to move to the airport lounge. Now having never been to the lounge, I was excited. Upon arriving at the lounge and finding out how much it would cost, I was at a dilemma, should I continue the fantastic conversation I had been having with these people or save some money and end the relationship here.

They took the decision out of my hands though, they insisted they would be the ones paying and that I was to accompany them in. So I did! For someone not used to luxury, the lounge was amazing – there was unlimited food, drink, WIFI, and even comfortable couches to go to sleep on, I was happy. What more could I want? To top it off, I was in the company of two truly great people that were intelligent, witty and humorous.

Turns out that the lady was a famous celebrity in Singapore with a number of health programs started by her. She was currently pursuing her PHD in Sports Science at a university in Malaysia and was on her way to Seattle to present the findings of her study at the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) conference – in our fields, one the biggest achievements you can make. She even offered to help me in my final dissertation project – one of the nicest things someone has done for me.

The man next to her (and me) was an old friend of hers who quit a corporate job to work as a freelance photographer and was hired to cover her presentation at the conference.

They both had incredible and amazing stories and personal experiences that I found truly fascinating.

We spoke about everything from our lives to our worries and dreams and I found that when they left a few hours later to catch their flight, that I could count these people as my friends, whose company I would miss.

So here are some pictures of us and of the food and drink at the lounge.

 

If you can guess who they are, good for you, but I am respecting their identities
If you can guess who they are, good for you, but I am respecting their identities

 

Unlimited food and drink at the lounge
Unlimited food and drink at the lounge

 

Moral of the story, if you think its the right time and you feel comfortable, try to get to know the stranger who sits next to you on the plane. Who knows, you may end up making great friends!

Till next time.

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