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Friendly Strangers

I recently posted about a great blog ‘Tiny Buddha‘ and the ‘Four lessons from the road’ post its writer Lori Deschene added not too long ago. One of the lessons mentioned within this post is titled ‘Talk to Strangers’. The post questions at the end why it is that travelling makes us feel more adventurous or daring when it comes to getting to know strangers. Why does being on the road and away from home, our comfort zone, aid in the process of turning complete strangers into friends, whether life long or temporary? Why are we less likely to welcome strangers into our lives whilst close to home and within our comfort zones, the place where you would think you feel safer to do such a thing?

  • Maybe the logical answer is we are scared. Scared of making a bad impression. Scared of someone not liking us. Is it insecurities? I suppose when we are travelling we have a threshold or safety barrier between permanent and temporary. If we decide we would rather not remain friends with someone its much easier to simply let that connection fade away.
  • Or is it because we think we already “know” someone if they live in the same area? Is there therefore no point befriending them as they will not bring something different to our lives? We share a common location so they won’t necessarily have something new, interesting or exciting to bring into my life? Is it more based upon intrigued? Are we drawn to people who we have questions about? Who we don’t automatically think we “know”? Questions such as where are they from? Are they from here or are they also travellers?) Does the intrigued act as a catalyst?
  • Is it because the need isn’t there when you’re home? When you can just pop around a friends place for a chat? The urge for human interaction is covered already? I certainly know when I travel solo I am more likely to go out of my way to chat to a stranger because I feel the need or urge to socialise.

Everyone probably has different reasons or a mix of different reasons, but whatever the reason I recommend you reconsider. Some of my closest friends – friends I see as lasting the test of time – are typically ones I have met by putting myself out there, whether I am on the road or not. In many ways its the best way to make friends because there is no ‘forcefulness’ behind it. Its completely up to you whether you choose to develop a closer friendship or not. Unlike school for example where you are in a way given a group of people to select from.

I always saw myself as quite introverted and I guess I was for much of my life. Looking back and delving into what sparked the change in me. What allowed such an introvert to become someone who feels at ease meeting new people? When did “befriending” a stranger become so easy, so exciting and refreshing to have someone new enter your life? And why is it so easy for some yet so hard for others? The point of change for me has no doubt got to do with my relocation to Perth back in 2007. If you have read my About page or a post I wrote back in March titled ‘East?‘ you will know what a profound effect this move from east to west had on me. By embarking on such a journey alone I was taking myself out of my comfort zone. Like I am doing now I removed myself from the people I knew and threw myself into a strange land full of, strangely enough, strangers! I knew one person – Benny Adamson my best mate from high school – so I was forced to change if I was to make new friends. I was forced to chat to strangers because everyone I came across was one. It was perfect! It was exactly what I needed! Like I now say “if you want change then seek it, but when you do do it in the most radical way possible”. Be extreme! My extreme at that stage in my life was moving to the other side of Australia by myself.

I recall my very first night in WA so clearly. I was taken by Ben (Benny Adamson), who had moved to Perth only 6 months earlier for work, to a friend of his barbeque. There was about 8 or so people there huddled in a circle in the back garage. Some sitting on the concrete floor and some sitting on seats. I remember being welcomed and doing the typical ‘hows it going nice to meet you’ handshake before finding myself a spot “within” the circle on the concrete floor. Unknown to me at the time, but I had sat myself down next to another Ben. Mr Benjamin Sawyer. He quickly and kindly offered me a beer, for which I happily accepted.

This ‘circle of friends’ was something obviously physical as mentioned above, but it was also something extremely figurative. As I sat and got to know Ben, who was throwing question after question at me, I glanced around the room intrigued by all these new faces. It was then this figurative meaning of ‘circle of friends’ became clear. I was being looked at, understandably, as an outsider. Here I was ‘plonking’ myself down in the middle of what was obviously a very close knit of friends who had known each other for a very long time. Many of them looked at me with hesitation, some hid this better than others, but then there was Benny Sawyer. Throughout this quick glance around the room he was still throwing question after question at me. Something he was and is still very skilled at. Ben, someone I now consider one of my closest friends, is like no other when it comes to turning complete strangers into friends… great friends. I have lost count of how many times he has been a best man at a wedding or how many people, no matter where you go in Perth, he knows. What is it about Ben that makes this process of befriending someone so easy for him? Does he look extra friendly?

To be honest, other than his beautifully groomed beard which you would expect to scare people off, there is nothing different about Mr Benjamin Sawyer (who is happily married girls!) other than the fact he just talks to people. He asks questions. He forgets about all the reasons why he shouldn’t get to know someone and walks up to them and chats away. This simple gesture and the lack of hesitation from Bens part makes the process that much easier when you’re the other person. The best tip I think, from experience as well a watching people like Ben, is to just ask questions. Delve in! Get to know them! Don’t just ask something generic! Make it personal because then it shows you care. It says to the other person, like it said to me that night whilst sitting on the concrete floor, that hey this person really wants to get to know ME! And the best thing you could possibly do in return is ask some questions back. Find some common interests. Even with people from other backgrounds and cultures will surprise you with how much they have in common with you.

Since I moved to the west coast back in 2007 I have have added many of these situations and stories about getting to know strangers to my list. I have learnt from people like Ben. I have learnt from putting myself in situations where I am forced to meet new people more and more often. My first job in WA involved me training people how to use Architectural software. Every week a set of fresh faces entered my class room and every week many of them exited as friends. I traveled to places like Adelaide to conduct training. I recall the first time, actually the only time I was sent to Adelaide to train clients, I flew in on a Wednesday night. The class lasted 4 days. It started on the Thursday and ended on the following Tuesday. Therefore I had the weekend in Adelaide. A city I had never been to before.

After spending 2 days training students I decided to head into the main street of Adelaide for Indian. I decided to sit outside and as I watched the diversity of people pass me by – my Uncle always said a city is a concentration of diversity – I started to feel the need to socialise. I needed some human interaction beyond standing in front of a class teaching all day. So on a full stomach I set off with this in mind. Being the city and a Friday night the shops were still open. As I was exiting one, after having a quick browse, I looked across the street and noticed a couple of cute girls working behind the counter of a jewellery store. With the passing cars as my only obstacle I soon found myself entering their shop front. I didn’t bother pretending to be interested in their products and instead got straight into asking what they have planned after they shut-up shop. My forwardness obviously shocked them slightly, but next thing I knew I was being invited to a local pub/club down the road.

I can’t remember the name, but I headed there early as I waited for the girls to finish work. It was a great place full of an eclectic array of furnishings. Down lights which didn’t match any other down lights. Bare dirty looking face brick walls with the mortar jutting out randomly. Art work sprawled over the walls. I quickly find myself standing by the bar, cider in hand, chatting to the bar tender. Another stranger! Wow this is not so hard at all! Confidence is building and the nerves of an introvert are slowly fading. As I am thinking this the bar tender calls a couple guys/regulars over. He gives them the quick spill about me not being from Adelaide and here for work etc etc. More strangers! Next the girls enter, but they are on the other side of the room. They see me and I see them and we give each other a friendly wave, but I continue getting to know the few guys who I have now created a circle with. Anyway to cut the story short I had a great night at this bar and possibly drank slightly too much, which if you know me is highly unusual. I don’t think I even ended up catching up with the two girls from the jewellery store, but I did get invited to go wake boarding on the Murray River for the weekend and what a great weekend it turned out to be. All I did was put myself out there for just one moment.

I have attempted to follow a similar attitude during my current solo tramp across Australia. I am continually having a chat to someone. I even ended up joining, for a few days, a bunch of other fellow rubber tramps – travellers moving via motor vehicle as opposed to a leather tramp who ventures out on foot – who are in the process of doing the full loop around Australia. I was driving on through and around Coffin Bay National Park on my 8th day when I saw a couple of troop carriers through some trees. There were a bunch of guys and a girl who had set up camp for the night. I gave them the quick ‘fellow troopy respect nod’, but kept on driving. On my return out of the park though, not long after my friendly gesture, I decided to stop by and say hello and check out their “rubber”. The first to pop up from their seat was Josh and his older brother Matt. Before long we were all standing along side my car discussing its ins and outs. Within 10 minutes I was being offered to hangout and set up camp there for the night before Matt and myself jumped in my car and Josh and his other brother Tom, his twin, jumped in theirs in hope for a late evening salmon fish. As I learned their names and the names bestowed to their stunning vehicles from Matt – which included two other troopies and a Nissan Navara ute –  he questioned mine. As I was half way through explaining my car sadly had no name it was quickly shouted over the CB radio… “BIG FOOT! come in Big Foot.. do you copy? Over”. Of course this was based on the large tyres, the thing which drew the guys attention towards my car the most. I will explain the adventures I shared with this lovely bunch of brothers who were accompanied by their cousin David and equally lovely married couple, Simon and Bec (Rebecca) in another post shortly as this one is getting crazy long. Plus the fun times deserves its own personal post.

A few other friendly strangers I have bumped into include Simon a cray fisherman from Cocklebiddy, WA. If I had more time I would have hung around in Cocklebiddy for a day and jumped aboard with Simon for some Cray Fishing. It would have made for some great photographic opportunities. There was also Alan, Bob and his wife Linda. I ran into the three on a road side stop along the Nullarbor late last week. I was grabbing a water out of my esky when I heard Bob singing whilst playing the Ukulele as Alan clicked some indigenous bang sticks together. They had been travelling around Australia for six years.

Anyway to finish up…

I urge you to chat, to seek out new friends and to put on your ‘welcoming’ face when traveling as well as when getting about in your home town. You never know who you will know until you take a moment to get to know them.

Take care.

Categories: Blog
Posted by Brett Wawn on May 1, 2012
3 Comments Post a comment
  1. 05/2/2012

    Great post Brett! I’ve enjoyed them all, but this one really spoke.

    • 05/2/2012

      Thanks for he kind words Steve. I am sure you noticed my reference to your quote about a city being a concentration of diversity? I hope all is well?

  2. 05/2/2012

    Your words spoke volumes Bretty!! Amazing perspective & I agree 100% .. The photos of the musical men are incredible… Loving the blog. Spif!


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