How to Talk to Strangers

Categories: The Overserved

Danny Hurley
Oak Cliff Mardi Gras Parade. Slideshow.

She worked the room with a certain kind of magic. A blonde, tiny slip of a thing, she walked from table to table greeting each guest. Sometimes offering a small token, sometimes complimenting a patron, and generally just being effusively charming. I knew she didn't own the place because she couldn't have been more than five years old or three feet tall. It was hard to tell who she belonged to, because she slipped through the brunch crowd like it was a cocktail party being thrown just for her.

But there in the Company Café dining room, my dining companion and I found ourselves completely halting our own conversation to watch her. "Here, I colored this Spider Man for you. It didn't take me very long," she said, as she handed over the red and blue page to a stranger. Climbing onto the booth, she was giving a lesson in friendly flirtation as we watched her lean in, just close enough to suggest a hug, and interrupt a couple to ask, "So how old are you?"

Small talk get a bad rap, people say they aren't good at it or lament the shallow topics of profession or hobbies, I guess wanting to trade them for 24-hour big talk on passion and process and cultural relevance. I get rather worked up about those subject too, but watching this girl move through the room reminds me that there is an art to small talk and its ability to connect us in social settings. As she would leave each table, I would watch guests inquire about their conversation, her sweet interjections now giving the entire room something in common. And giving even me, a master class in conversation.
If I try to pinpoint her specialty, I would say it was the interruption. Something we could all do with a little more of in our life, socially or otherwise. Earlier in the weekend at a gallery I now wish I had interrupted that charismatic artist instead of just minding the party rules of dancing and laughing at jokes.

At the end of the weekend, I am belly-up to a sushi bar, a couple next to me celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary. Rounds and rounds of dishes and drinks come to them. A bottle of Sauvignon Blanc generously shared with everyone at the bar in celebration. Normally in this moment, I'd be content to eavesdrop, their sweet nothings were entertaining and being shared above a whisper. Not today. Today, I interrupt and decide to make a new friend.

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