I talk to people in elevators.
I realize this is probably not the proper commuter etiquette. But to ignore the person pressing against my left shoulder as we travel three floors seems like ignoring our shared humanity. Plus, I’m a talker. And it is so awkward to stare at the floor in silence when there are only two or three of you trapped in the impending death box. Why wait until the thing jams and you are stuck with one another for hours? I say, strike up a conversation in the beginning so people will be more willing to share their oxygen if it comes to that.
If you would like to add some friendliness to the world, here are my suggestions for How to Talk to Strangers.
Look for clues.
A gentleman wearing an Army cap is easy. I thank him for his service and ask how many years he served or where. I commiserate with a woman wearing heels and carrying a heavy briefcase. Be careful with this, though. We once stayed in a Chicago hotel near ComicCon. We had chatted with several conference attendees in their various attire. Coming down to breakfast one morning, we asked the couple with green hair and platform shoes which character they represented. “These are not costumes,” they said.
Don’t be Creepy.
I always want to chat with cute kids, but that can be weird. I mean, I am a stranger. So I keep it professional. I ask the child if they would please push the button for my floor. Kids love to push buttons. If the parents encourage interaction, I add a sentence about my grandchild near the same age. (I have a grandchild near every age!)
Use the Weather.
We live in the Midwest, so weather talk is guaranteed to get people going. If you are in Palm Beach, I’m not sure it will work to say, “How about this perfect weather that never, ever changes?” You could try adding, “Aren’t you glad we aren’t in Missouri today?” Weather in Missouri changes about every hour, so you are safe no matter how the person responds.
Caring is the whole point of talking to strangers. It is possible to feel great empathy for a soul you will never see again after the doors close. At least, never on this side of eternity. I try to see people as treasures – in elevators, at checkout lines, over the fast-food counter, and even when we pass on the street. I know my smile or brief comment might mean nothing to the other person. Or, it might mean the world. I once heard a motivational speaker talk about his failed suicide attempt off the Golden Gate Bridge. “If just one person on the bus had spoken to me that day,” he said, “I wouldn’t have jumped.”
Disclaimer: My security-aware husband would want me to point out that all the rules for Stranger Danger still apply. I have been known to get off the elevator on the wrong floor to avoid being alone with someone who feels a tiny bit suspicious. Stay smart. Be aware. Check the exits.