Talking to Strangers: My Mama Told Me Not To, But I Did

When I first came to Bristol, a lot of things seemed so different. I was driven by a dream, so every step I made here in England seemed to take me closer to my goals. Therefore the city was filled with romanticism, whose reminiscences bring up the warm nostalgic feeling. However, there was one thing, that really threw me, really made me feel anxious: strangers, talking to me.

If you find yourself in a supermarket in Bristol and there is a British person at a one meter distance from you, he or she will say “Sorry!”. And smile, of course. If you are walking down the small empty alley and there is a person walking towards you, a good chance is that they will say “Hi!” to you. It all seemed quite redundant to me, coming from the capital.

In Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania – and I stress the capital for the reasons I will expand on later – people are quite indifferent. Unless it’s a customer service or a pub situation. Out on the streets, people won’t talk to strangers. So when all of a sudden I was exposed to the culture, where communication was being used so freely, I felt lost. I even had to speak to the bus drivers! Here, you have to buy a ticket directly from the bus driver. Tell him where you are going. And people would even say “Cheers!”, “Thank you!” or “Bye!”, when they get off the bus. To me it was a shocker. It felt like an intrusion to my guarded self rather than common decency. (Which now seems so egocentric.)

Firstly, I really believe it’s a capital-city-effect. When I was in London and a cyclist nearly cycled over me, he did not even flinch. No apology has permeated his lips. In Bristol a heartfelt repentance would have followed. So the fact that people in capital-cities are more indifferent towards each other is legit, IMHO. It’s a different pace, citizens preoccupied with “more important things in life”. Meanwhile Bristol is known as one of the friendliest cities in the UK. It’s just nice in here.

Secondly, I really think English are great communicators. They do talk to each other and their usage of language is just way more sophisticated. They genuinely gather and use information. If they practice the small-talk, it’s for a reason: to get to know someone better, to relate, to make a connection.

Also, if a stranger says “Hi!” to you in the dark alley, it puts you at ease, makes you feel more relaxed, thus creating a safer environment. It’s like a gesture of peace.

Finally, to have fun. English are open and sociable people, ready to flex their tongues in a playful way. (Hahaha!)
Lithuanians I’m finding to be way more reserved and even threatened by each other. Although young people are far more easygoing nowadays. Which is a good sign.

Meanwhile, I spoke to a stranger and I liked it!

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