I talk to strangers as if they are – well, like they’re not strangers. You know, like they are people. And I wink at them, too. 😉 Here’s what I’ve noticed. Some people think it’s weird and they become incredibly uncomfortable while others don’t think anything of it. Some people are just like me!
I had my window down in the Swagger Wagon yesterday while pulling out of the drive onto the busy street in front of my office. I missed my chance to go before an older gentleman approached the drive from the sidewalk so I had to back up a bit so he could safely walk by. He made direct eye contact with me and smiled. “Hi, sorry. Traffic’s crazy,” I yelled to him over the street noise. He flashed the rest of his bright white dentures at me while shaking his head and said, “Don’t you hate it when this happens? Thanks so much!” as he approached the front of my vehicle. I yelled back to the 80+-year-old man, “You wanna run out there and stop traffic for me?” He yelled back, “You’re on your own!” as he passed in front of me with a final wave.
I have exchanges like this with strangers several times a day. And for the record, I’m not always the one initiating interactions. Don’t think I’m out and about town acting like a lunatic, but I do really enjoy interacting with people. It’s a necessity in my life.
On the other hand, there’s the kid at Target the other day to whom I asked how his day was going and he turned 10 shades of red and fumbled all over himself as he continued scanning my items. So then, I felt awkward because I’d obviously unsettled this young man. I wanted to put my hand on his shoulder, look him in the eye, and say, “Hey, man, take a deep breath and relax and we’ll try it again.” But I figured that wouldn’t help the situation. Instead, I tapped my foot and silently looked off toward the customer service area until we were done. Anything not to put any additional pressure on the poor boy.
And there’s the lady at the coffee shop (and the one in the grocery store and the restaurant and the guy in the school parking lot) who all froze in place or quickly looked away when I winked at them in passing. Maybe they thought I was hitting on them. Get over yourselves. Do you know how many people I wink at in a given day? Winking has become part of my smile. It’s kind of like a little sister. Wherever a smile is, there’s a wink one half-step behind. (Actually, I bet I winked at a half dozen people in the Target customer service area while I was avoiding eye contact with that cashier. Scandalous!) Again, not everyone minds me winking at them. Sometimes I only realize I’ve done it after I see someone’s courteous “auto pilot” smile turn into a bigger, genuine grin so I see it as I’m providing a public service.
Here’s the thing… Like just about everything in life, there is a spectrum for the various aspects of social interactions. We all have different comfort levels for conversation, affection, noise, etc. Some of us fall at the very far side of one end while others fall at the very far side of the opposite end. Then there are billions of people at the various increments in between. No one spot on the spectrum is better or worse than another, but the tricky thing is figuring out how to coexist. If they’re not careful, extroverts can make introverts uncomfortable while the introverts can easily annoy the extroverts. And sometimes the extrovert who loves to strike up conversations with everyone requires a 3-foot bubble of personal space. But the truth of it is we all need each other. Thank God we’re not all the same or we’d really be in trouble. Can you imagine a world of all extroverts or all introverts? Or all huggers or non-huggers?
In my view, the key to getting along is two-part: 1) Be who you are. 2) Respect the fact that not everyone is like you. Pretty simple, right? In theory… I’ve decided for myself that I should probably stop touching strangers. I caught myself doing this the other night at dinner with a friend. As we left, I put my hand on our server’s shoulder as I commended him on his excellent service. I suddenly remembered a server that kept touching my husband during dinner one night and how uncomfortable it made him feel. (Granted there was an excessive amount of touching going on that night, but that’s a story for another day.) But I certainly don’t want to make people feel uncomfortable, and since I don’t know where everyone exists on the various spectrums I mentioned earlier, I will error on the side of caution. Let’s face it. I’m not going to stop smiling at people. And honestly, I don’t think I could stop winking, even if I wanted to. But even though I’m fine with a touch on the arm or even an occasional hug with someone I don’t know, I understand not everyone is. And I think invading someone’s personal space is definitely crossing the line.