SPEAKING TO STRANGERS

I walked to school carrying a Lego model yesterday. It was an intricate reconstruction of a some scene from a Harry Potter film which my youngest had spent ages building and wanted to produce at ‘Show and tell’. And so, I took the responsibility of transporting it safely to school in one piece thus seeking to avoid the inevitable tears that would follow if it broke on the way.

I appreciate that this in itself is not terribly interesting and unlikely to hold my reader’s attention for long. However, the response that I got was. I didn’t notice to start with. The first few people that we passed smiled broadly at me and, being a friendly soul, I smiled back. After all I do try to engage with the people that I pass on my daily saunter to school. When I noticed drivers of cars smiling at me as well, I began to think that perhaps there was something else afoot.

I was brought up to acknowledge the people that I pass in the street. If my path crosses with someone else’s, I will generally smile and say hello. If a stranger waits for me to pass at a narrow place, I try to thank them. This, as I was taught as a child, is common courtesy and costs nothing. I know it doesn’t happen everywhere and that if I tried smiling at random strangers in a city centre I might get more than I bargained for but here in my little sleepy town it’s what I consider to be the done thing.

Except that it’s not. People younger than me rarely make eye contact. They will be texting or plugged into their ipod and it doesn’t seem to cross their mind to recognise that they and I briefly share the same air space. Old people will generally speak if they’re spoken to but often look so shocked that someone has said  ‘Good morning’ that I fear for the state of their hearts. They clearly no longer expect a stranger to speak and sometimes I do just to challenge them (which isn’t really the point, I know).

Which is why it struck me as so unusual when so many people made eye contact and smiled whilst I carried the Lego creation. With me walking with small children and carrying a toy they were happy to speak. Is that because it gave them an excuse to communicate, a point of reference? Was the sight unusual or comical enough to jolt them out of their private world? Did I just look less threatening armed with Lego rather than my ubiquitous phone (which I do always try to stop looking at as I pass people out of some strange sense of decorum.) Do we now need an excuse to communicate with one another? I fear we might.

There are lots of people, mainly those younger than myself to be fair, to whom speaking to strangers would never occur. I consider this to be a break down in manners and is something that needs to be addressed before all sense of community is lost. But  this was different. These were people who were happy to smile at my son and his model. It was as if they had simply got out of the habit of tipping their invisible hat and saying hello.

 Well, I for one, think it’s a shame. I am bringing my children up to acknowledge those around them although I am sure there are those that would say that I’m playing fast and loose with the ‘Stranger Danger’ rules. I want to live in a world where talking to someone new is not greeted with suspicion. I am thinking that perhaps I should amass an array of interesting and noteworthy objects to carry around with me just to prompt a response. And I think that everyone reading this should acknowledge a stranger every day just to appease me! That would be a start.

What do you think? I'd love to know...