I was in a long queue the other day and as you do in long queues, I smiled at the woman in front of me, I grimaced slightly and shrugged my shoulders, effectively communicating that hey, we’re in this together. Bad mistake. She grinned at me and then launched into her life story. Seriously. She didn’t waste time on the small chit-chat suitable for friendly strangers. She told me about the time her house burnt down and all the consequences. She also told me about her two children and how naughty the one was, but the other was a shining star.
The next time I was in a long queue – this time a bureaucratic queue – I told the guy behind me that the only way to survive was to practice standing on one leg, like a yoga pose. He thought this was a great idea and although he didn’t have much balance, he persevered. Of course, the rest of the people snaking around the room soon picked up on this entertaining option and soon there were at least thirty people smiling and standing on one leg. It was a good queue session.
I participate in a radio show once a week and besides talking rubbish live on air, one of my duties is to make that week’s guest feel comfortable and calm (most have never been on live radio before, so nerves are frayed and shaky hands and voices the norm). Every so often the guest will bring along his wife (the female guests never need to bring along support), and I also need to keep them entertained and generally tell them how wonderful their husbands will sound on radio. Perhaps because it’s an intimate situation and I really lay on the charm to keep everyone calm and happy, but the things people tell me is just beyond comprehension. One woman, the wife of a highly respected executive, told me all about their sex life. It was way too much information and certainly more than I’d ever want to know about anyone really. She then asked my advice on everything from fashion to dieting.
Yesterday, I was in the supermarket and stopped in the egg aisle. And, as I normally do, I opened a couple of boxes of eggs to ensure they were perfectly intact before choosing to buy them. A woman happened to be standing next to me doing exactly the same thing (I thought I was clever and unique doing the egg check, but apparently not). She proceeded to tell me about her childhood growing up on a duck farm and how important it is to check the quality of each and every egg. Then she told me that Dr Oz (she watches him every day on TV) says boiled eggs are good for your hair and may even be a cure for Alzheimer’s.
There’s another up-market supermarket I sometimes go to because it’s convenient. At around 6 in the evening, it becomes the biggest pick up joint in town. Everyone stands in a long queue, and it’s easy to see who’s single by the contents of their basket. Possibly because I never do big shops there, and usually pop in for a few random items or just enough for one meal, I may look single. I get hit on every time. I told the manager he should play good music and serve margarita’s at the door – perhaps even charge an entrance fee. He was delighted at the suggestion, but I guess corporate red tape got in the way because it still hasn’t happened. When I’m not getting hit on there, I’m usually regaled with someone’s life story – at least until the next teller opens up.
I like smiling at strangers – it often makes them feel better – and as strange as it might be sometimes, a little smile can open floodgates of information and stories. Perhaps people are generally quite lonely. Perhaps people really do need a small point of contact in a busy day – to touch base and feel someone is listening. Even though I know too much about some people, I think I’ll continue to offer up smiles and an interested demeanour for those tit-bits about slices of other people’s lives.