It’s always interesting meeting strangers on the street. It can be exciting. Awkward. Maybe a little scary.
The other afternoon I was taking photos of Federation Square in the city, minding my own business.
“Excuse me? Can you take a photo of me?”
I turned around. The summer-in-autumn sun shone right into my face. Eyes squinting, I made out a tall, dark-skinned guy towering over me, compact camera in hand. Why are you looking at me? Why are you coming towards me? Right. Photo.
“Sure!” Smiling, I took the camera from him. He took a few steps back and stood still. Silence. Does he want a full or half body shot? Portrait? Landscape? Oh well. I snapped a shot of him against the backdrop of Melbourne’s iconic Flinders Street Station.
Surprise, wonder, uncertainty. That about sums up the first few seconds of bumping into a complete stranger. We look each other in the face. Then in the eyes. Then most likely we will lock eyes for at least a split second and feel a tingle down our spine. As I handed the camera back to him, I noticed the card dangling around his neck said SBS. National media. So he works there.
“I used to work at SBS,” I said, still smiling.
“Oh really?” the guy replied cheerily. “Which department?”
If we don’t hate each other’s guts at first sight and run the other way, the next few minutes with a stranger promise to be a mixed bag of emotions and thoughts. The guy and I chatted about SBS Radio, studies and work. From the way you look and talk in that flat and neutral tone, it seems like you’re from Africa. Hmmm. Are you? Turns out he hails from Sudan.
“I’ve never been to Africa,” I said.
“You should go to Africa someday. Experience the culture.” We chatted a bit more about where we’re from.
Past exchanging formalities, there comes a point where we become curious about the stranger in front of us. Curious about their background. Their home. Lifestyle. Do we get intrigued by the colour of their skin and accent and make assumptions about our new acquaintance based off these? It’s hard not to notice their appearance and how they sound, even if they look and sound the same as us, isn’t it? Do we ever just listen to what they have to say as just…another person? Another person who has hopes, tribulations and dreams just like us?
“You know, you never said ‘Where’s that’ when I said I’m from Sudan,” the Sudanese guy mused. He extended his hand and I gripped it. Firm five-second handshake. Didn’t see that coming. “Take care, sister.”
It’s hard to guess what will happen when we come face to face with someone we don’t know by chance. But I guess that’s the beauty of meeting someone for the first time. As Einstein said, “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious”.
You never know what you can learn from them.
What runs through your mind when you bump into a stranger?