Lessons from My Parents: Always Talk to Strangers

I remember going into the grocery store to look for my mom, after waiting in the car for thirty minutes, when I was seven. She had just run in for one or two things, and I thought surely she had died (or at least that’s what I said when she got mad at me for leaving the car where she had told me to wait for her). When I found her, she was standing near the entrance with her one grocery bag in hand, chatting with a woman whom I did not recognize. When I walked up she continued talking, completely ignoring my presence, and when I tried to tap her arm, she swatted me away, which was the understood gesture indicating that I should hush. As we finally walked towards the car ten more minutes later, I said, “Mom, how did you know that lady?” “We met in the check-out line.”
Both of my parents have always been this way. Neither one of them has ever met a stranger. A few years ago, we were visiting Versailles in Paris and lost track of my dad. When we found him, he was desperately trying to carry on a conversation with a French-speaking construction worker about the restoration work that was going on. He’s infamous for trying to talk to busy waitresses, as if they’re just chatting over cocktails, while the poor young girls squirm with anxiousness to get away from our table and back to work.
When I was younger, I couldn’t understand this need to talk to EVERYONE, and the ability to make friends with ANYONE. It annoyed me, and I was sure that the people on the receiving end were surely just as annoyed as I was.
But somewhere along the way, and I really can’t pinpoint when it happened, I BECAME MY PARENTS. I’m now that person who walks into the Publix and calls every cashier by name. I end up spending an hour in the park talking to someone I just met. When I lived in Charleston last summer, I met two boys in the Wal-Mart checkout line and ended up spending the rest of the day floating down the creek with them and their friends. And it was the most fun I had all summer.
Not only have I learned to talk to random people, but I have learned that this is a valuable skill in the business world. I’ve shamelessly networked myself into dream jobs, and just waltzed up to editors in the hallways of Southern Living. I’ve learned that talking to people, even if they’re strangers, enriches your life in surprising ways. Whether you just enjoy “shooting the breeze” on the sidewalk to pass time on a quiet afternoon, or making a connection that leads to an opportunity, it’s always worth the risk to just say hello to someone.
So for better or worse, one of the most important lessons I learned from my parents, is always talk to strangers. 

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