When I was young talking to strangers was not the right thing to do. It was a lesson I learnt well and it taught me as a child to be cautious of people I did not know. As I grew older however I learnt that it is not strangers that children should be wary of but people they know. This has been proven time and time again as children have been harmed by a family member or someone known to the child and family. Now I am older the rules have changed and it is okay to spend time talking to strangers.
Take for example when we went for a walk last Sunday. We visited the Maleny Trail that sets off from the Maleny Golf Club. The Golf Club is a fairly new development opening with the first nine holes on 30 June 2015. The Club now has in excess of 300 members. I am not a golfer but it is something I have considered for my retirement years….still considering! We were walking the Maleny Trail and my “One & Only” (O&O) being a sociable bloke would talk to every stranger we came across. He is not only sociable but willing to share his knowledge of the area if others will take the time to pause and talk to a stranger. Most people you run into on a walk are friendly. Some will stop to chat and others will with less than a nod or grunt will walk on. These are the people who still think is it not okay to talk to a stranger.
When we did the walk we arrived back at the beginning. We had taken a short cut to start with and had not seen the sign with information about the walk, distance etc. There were another couple around our age, retiree’s, who were looking and pointing at the sign. My O&O wanting to be helpful began to talk to these strangers and explain a little more about the walk. They were all pointing to the little red dot which tells the viewer “you are here” while all the time trying to work out where “here” is. While they were all talking about where we all were I stood back a few paces wanting to say “hello everyone, we are at the Maleny Golf Club, the beginning of the Maleny Trail”. But I let the couple engage in conversation with my O&O while they discussed the walk. Now that we had done the walk my O&O was able to share his knowledge of this with these strangers. I wondered how long we would be strangers and whether we were about to become friends so I thought I should move closer and join in the discussion. We found out that the couple walk every Sunday with a group – nowhere to be seen at this time. Before we had anymore moments to share about our respective lives they were off on the walk and we found ourselves no longer talking to strangers but just chatting about the merits of getting out in the fresh air and sunshine.
Similarly, the same happens for us when we walk the Boardwalk from the Riverside Centre, Maleny. This is another part of the newly opened Maleny Trail. The Obi Obi Creek runs along the Boardwalk and it is a great place to stop, reflect and stare into the creek looking for the speckled longfin eel. We have seen it numerous times and my O&O has photographed it but the eel is clouded by the colour of the water so the photograph is not suitable for reproduction. Once we stop and stare at the creek other walkers stop alongside us to see what we are looking at. Here is another chance to talk to a stranger and tell them all about the eel. The local platypuses then come into the conversation and my O&O is able to share his knowledge of the best locations to sight the platypus. The strangers by now are very pleased with the information they have and wander off with a smile on their face and wishing us a great day.
The supermarket is another place where I find myself talking to strangers. Recently I met my new best friend (will almost) in the supermarket. As I paused in an aisle a woman started to chat to me. She was looking at packet sauces and told me her story about what she had to eat and that her dietitian had recommended this particularly product. Now that she was no longer a stranger I thought I should tell her about sugar in packaged goods and that she should aim for no more than 5gms per 100gms. She seemed rather thrilled to be armed with this knowledge and for the rest of my shopping trip in the supermarket we spoke at different times. My O&O after completing another errand joined me in the supermarket and asked me about my friendship with this woman. He was surprised to discover that only a few aisles’ back we were strangers. It seems that the older you get the more you find yourself talking to strangers. I wonder if this is others experience or just a phenomenon for me and my O&O now that we are retired and no longer in such a hurry.
While generally it is okay to talk to a stranger there are times when we should think twice about it. I realised this when travelling to Sydney last June. Here I was lined up waiting to go through security and I could read the name and address on the luggage of the woman in front of me. I thought of telling her that it would be wise not to be displaying the information for security purposes but on this occasion decided not to talk to a stranger as any moment she would be whisked away into the scanning machine. The plane trip was uneventful until there was another situation of talking to strangers on the airport train. A woman (about my age) and looking like a retiree (if retiree’s have a particular look) got into the train and sat opposite me (corridor seating). The woman and I smiled at one another knowingly probably due to the fact that we were both about the same age and travelling alone. She sat next to an older man (another retiree?) who was on his laptop computer. After a while his eyes strayed to her luggage label. “Oh”, he said you are from Toowoomba (pronounced slightly wrong). That is in South Australia isn’t it?” The woman said “no, it’s in regional Queensland”. He said “I thought there was also a Toowoomba in South Australia”. She said “no, there is only one Toowoomba that I am aware of”. I was listening into the conversation, not that I could block it out as everyone in that part of the carriage could hear it. I thought “well, what do you know, this woman is from Toowoomba, no wonder we recognised one another”. Toowoomba is my home town and up until 2013 I had spent the previous four years working there. I could have started talking to these strangers, but there comes a time, when you have to be silent. The moral of this story is that it can be fun and interesting talking to strangers but in situations when travelling make sure your personal details such as name and address on your luggage label is hidden. Every older person should take note of this!