I have come to the conclusion that I must have an approachable face or disposition, for strangers frequently want to strike up conversation with me. Either that or the words TALK TO ME PLEASE are inscribed upon my forehead. The frequency of these encounters has risen since coming to Montreal, and I thought I would share some with you.
Art Enthusiast in Second Cup
This story begins how many of these stories begin; my quest to acquire a coffee. One morning, when I had not been in in Canada all that long, I ordered my coffee, only for the aged gentleman in front of me to whip round and exclaim “you’re from ENGLAND?! My! How WONDERFUL, how refined!” (Then, impersonating me) “One coffee please! Ooh so elegant!” He went on to ask me how I had come to be in Montreal and made the ‘my, my, how fancy’ face when I told him that I went to McGill.
“What might it be that you are studying? I bet it’s the arts!”
“Yes, actually, history of art.”
“My, I studied the arts too! I was in THEATRE!” (Which came as no surprise, really.) “Have you been to see the Impressionist exhibition yet? It’s WONDERFUL. You know, I once stood in front of a Monet that was so beautiful I CRIED!”
Franck from Cote-D’Ivoire
One humid, rainy afternoon I decided to take refuge in Starbucks, for I was drenched by and unprepared for said rain and had had a bad morning. Whilst reading I was interrupted by Franck, one of the baristas, who decided to join me while on his break. This turned out to be because he thought I was beautiful and wanted to go for a drink sometime and talk about the UK, a country he was very keen on visiting apparently. The gentleman also decided to take my phone that was on the table and call himself from it, later texting me “just to say i Like u so much see u.” Reader, I never replied, nor have I returned to that Starbucks…
Creepy Moustache Man from Suffolk
I saw in 2013 at the most hipster party I have ever been to. A blanket fort in a loft, people drinking whiskey from jars, vegan brownies and quinoa on offer, many an artist in attendance. I spoke to a man from Suffolk of all places, primarily because he was English and it seemed like a novelty. It ended in him drawing a moustache on my face, then trying to wipe it off with his spit. I ran.
Medic who liked my pens
A reprieve from awkward men came in the form of a girl I unfortunately can’t remember the name of. She liked my pens. We talked about obstetrics. She thought I was brave for leaving home and wished me all the luck in the world.
Alex from Athens
One busy afternoon in the university canteen, I shared a table with guy who was one of the most polite people I have met in a long time. He was Alex from Athens and quizzed me about studying abroad, for he wanted to go to Belgium. He also had about four courses for his lunch, which I found odd, but it is difficult to get upset over that when someone is so polite.
Mohammed from Egypt
More recently, whilst doing my readings in Second Cup, I met Mohammed from Egypt who was probably in his 70s. He kept touching my arm and was worried for me being cold, because there was frost on the inside of the window. Seizing the opportunity to have a conversation, he showed me his scars from The War and proceeded to tell me about the life and times of his family. If you were wondering, most of his family is now dead and he much prefers Canada to Egypt.
Hipster who drank my coffee
One of my favourite coffee shop encounters was with an anonymous, handsome francophone in Starbucks. I was reading a fascinating article about a family in Russia who have lived in isolation for 40 years, when he turned to me and pointed at my coffee.
“Escusez-moi, eez zat your coffee?” Puzzled, I replied that yes, it was.
“I am so sorry, but I just drank from eet. Can I buy you anozer one?”
I tried to keep it together and control my laughter. He was so embarrassed and afterwards did not respond to my attempts at conversation. Quel dommage.
There are the other less memorable conversations too, such as those by people whose faces simply light up upon hearing my accent, and exclaim “you’re BRITISH?!” then proceeding to ask me questions about Downton Abbey and the Queen. Sometimes, I just want to order my coffee. That’s all.
In the end, they are all people, hearts possibly heavy and aching with loneliness, wanting to make a connection with someone else. One of the greatest things I have heard is to “imagine others complexly.” Mohammed from Egypt was not necessarily a creepy old man, but someone who probably lives alone, where encounters in coffee shops are his only reprieve from isolation. Boundaries must still exist, but I try not to shun strangers too strongly.
What are your favourite encounters with strangers? I know you have some golden ones, friends. Comment with your best and I will compile them!