Jun 022011
Stranger Danger

Have you noticed that no matter how close together seats are in a theater, in a café or on a bus, people manage, or try, to sit side by side but without actually touching the stranger beside them. Likewise we generally go out of our way to avoid making eye-contact or having to engage with strangers unless we have to. Now I don’t claim to know why this is, or whether it’s a new phenomenon of not. Maybe it’s just a sign of the times. However it does result in those awkward moments when we are forced to unexpectedly interact with each other.

You know the moments, like when you’re walking down the corridor and a stranger is walking towards you and you both move to the same side in order to pass by and end up hopping from foot to foot in front of each other as you both try to dodge past getting more and more embarrassed the longer the jig goes on.

Another example could be when you and a stranger both reach for something on the supermarket shelf resulting in unprotected hand contact. You each quickly pull back and say “after you”, then go and do exactly the same thing again. Of course, this situation would never happen between Chavs at a Primark sale but you get the point.

These moments are unavoidable so the best thing to do is try and make the most of them and treat them as opportunities. If you can end the awkwardness with a quip or even an obviously over the top cheesy line, you not only break through the awkwardness but you may even make a friend.

If during the passing by jig you stop and say “Thanks for the dance” and wave them past it’s usually received with a smile. If an accidental touch of the hand is met with a “Hmm…. What nice soft hands you have”, you never know you might even pull. Although I wouldn’t try that last one on a bloke if I were you, then again, whatever floats your boat.

Our reluctance to engage with others in this way makes it difficult to expand a circle of friends beyond formal environments such a school, work or clubs where people are brought together in a safe environment. I can’t help thinking that society is becoming more and more socially insular.

In these days when friends can apparently be made at the press of a button even though you never actually need to meet anyone. The definition of a friend has become a grey area and we risk losing the ability to interact with strangers in anything but a formal setting. This will continue to make us all even more insular and nervous about “stranger danger”.

Before long people will become so afraid of anyone outside their small social groups that they’ll start to shop online and have their groceries delivered instead of going to the supermarket. Pubs and Cinemas will close as more people stay at home with a bottle of wine and a movie on demand. Playgrounds will go unused because we won’t let our kids play outside, instead we’ll keep them at home and the schools will hammer home the “stranger danger” message.

Sound familiar?