28 December 2013

Talking to people on planes, trains and automobiles

I'm going to come right out and say it. I do this; I talk to people on trains. I talk to people on planes. And I've spoken to people in automobiles.

You should know, I'm not the most extroverted person. Nor am I always the one to start these conversations. However, what I am is pretty perceptive. I try to apply this skill in all areas of my life. Or maybe it just happens. Anyway. So in these public-transport-chat scenarios, I can quickly tell when it's going south, regardless of who started it. Thus, I allow it to fizzle out, unimpeded.

Still, when the opportunity presents itself, I let it happen. And you know, I've had some of the best conversations this way. I have met some pretty interesting people.

I see the other members of the public sat around me and the stranger with whom I am conversing, looking at us like someone has lost their mind. As if, any second, one of us might display some other twisted and psychotic behaviour aboard the vessel. As if something bad is going to happen.

I just ignore them. Play with your phone, kill the battery. Listen to your music, destroy your hearing. Thanks for allowing me to hear it too. I like doing all these things too; music, books, etc. But sometimes, a chat with a perfect stranger can be fun. Yup, I used the f-word.

All this most frequently occurs when said public transport has failed in some way, which happens on a regular basis in the UK it seems. General confusion ensues, passengers feel a camaraderie with one another, and a select few decide to acquaint themselves. Often just to understand what the hell is happening. But sometimes, it is simply for a chat.

Some examples?

A student doctor on a flight from Manchester to Atlanta, visiting her sister who had moved there. And on the connecting flight to San Diego, a very Christian American lady, fascinated with Britain and British people. She assumed all of us constantly drink tea and love the Royal family. They're nice enough I suppose but I rarely drink tea.

A mathematics researcher at Adelaide University on a flight to Denver. He was visiting his son for three weeks who'd moved there to marry and live with a girl he met via World of Warcraft (WoW). We spoke of ebooks and publishing. Only after he was surprised to discover I was in fact 28, had a doctorate in physics and worked in scientific publishing, of course.

On a train from Bristol to Manchester Piccadilly, a train driver in his late 50s who gave me all sorts of insider info about rail travel, tickets and the like.

A train from Bristol to Birmingham New Street. Twice. A whole host of topics including complaints about CrossCountry trains, Easyjet and Ryanair, and the enduring bad weather.

Oh and there was the taxi from Rhodes airport to my hotel, which I shared with a very drunken man in his 40s from Wales, and a nice young couple from Amsterdam. The couple got in after both of us and I later discovered, after the intoxicated Welshman got out at his destination, that they thought he was my boyfriend! Please bare in mind, he looked an old and quite haggard 40-something due to being ravaged by alcohol and solar radiation; whilst I look pretty much the same as I did when I was 16. I'm not sure what age gap is acceptable in Amsterdam but... In fact, that's all I'm going to say.

Another time, and my last example, I'd just arrived at Gatwick from Rhodes, incredibly happy to be back in blightly, and famished after no food aboard the Easyjet flight. I'd opted to buy some Skips from M&S and was inhaling these on the train platform when a rather charismatic American gentleman in his late 50s I'm guessing decided to give me advice on how unhealthy it was to eat 'chips'. I think I politely laughed and mumbled through the prawn cocktail flavoured tapioca snacks in my gob that I was hungry. He proceeded to sit next to me on the train, and engage myself and another woman in conversation about his adventures all over America and beyond, and his high-flying lifestyle. Once again, she assumed we already knew one another; perhaps she'd seen us chatting on the platform as he tried to decipher the British rail transport system which can be tricky at the best of times. I still cannot be sure he wasn't a complete fantasist who had made all of these life experiences up as it almost sounded too farfetched. But I decided to ignore my cynicism and he was entertaining enough even if he was bragging a little too much.

I doubt many people who know me would describe me as someone who would 'make friends with anyone'. Perhaps it's my awareness of the finite and relatively short period of interaction and the fact that I won't have to, or more specifically probably never will, see these people again. All this means I just think, well why the hell not, right?

Maybe try it sometime? ;)



  1. You see how come when I'm on public transport and someone talks to me ( which is all the time) it's never a nice person like you, it's always always always a slightly unhinged person?!

    1. Oh. Well, I think I am intimidated by women.