Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Cabbie Chat

When I was growing up, my mom taught me to never talk to strangers.  Even now, when I'm back home and heading out to meet a friend at Starbucks, she peers down from the top of the stairs and shouts, jokingly, "Don't talk to strangers!" When I roll my eyes, she says, "I mean it!"
So she'll be terrified to know that I love nothing more than making casual small talk with strangers.  I think it's the American in me.  A couple years ago, John and I were enjoying a lovely winter weekend in Stratford-upon-Avon.  "You know what would make this trip perfect?" I asked John dreamily over a half-pint of shandy (with more Sprite in it than beer) in the cozy, warm pub we were in.  "What?" he asked, somewhat nervously.  "Some good, friendly, local chat," I responded, looking around the room for my victim.  I was disappointed when no one wanted to engage with me, the crazy Asian-American girl.  But the next day when we were taking photos by the River Avon, an older lady walking her dog approached us.  "Lovely, beautiful day, isn't it?" she said cheerfully, dressed like she had just appeared out of a country home catalogue.  "Would you like me to take a photo of you?" she asked.  We gratefully accepted.  "Ah, that's nice," she said.  "Are you visiting Stratford, then?" she asked, still in the same, friendly tone.  "Oh you're from London, how lovely," she said.  "My son lives in London!"  We continued our  little chat for a few minutes more before she headed off with her dog.  "Are you happy now?" asked John.  I nodded, beaming.  I had my fill of friendly, local chat.
Another great opportunity for chatting is with cabbies.  This will horrify my mother - what, with all the stories of girls being kidnapped, murdered or worse after taking a black cab - so of course, common sense (and the sixth sense) is always exercised.  London cabbies are not particularly chatty, although you'd be surprised.  I had some great chat with the cabbie who took me to the hospital for John's suspected swine flu medicine pick-up (he didn't have swine flu, btw, more like man flu) about immigration and the strength/weakness of sterling.  Then there was the time I jumped into a nice Scottish cabbie's car in Edinburgh on my way to meet Adeline.  He wistfully confessed he'd always wanted to visit America, after asking where I was from, but that his wife refused to go because she was convinced that everyone carried a gun and there was too much crime.  I chuckled as I always find it interesting and funny to hear stereotypes about America, just as Americans frequently stereotype Brits (or anyone who doesn't live in The Greatest Country In The World). 
Last night, I had some quite enjoyable, albeit brief, chat with a cabbie from St John's Wood back to Maida Vale.  He asked which end of my road I'd like to be dropped off and after my description, he commented, "Oh, the nicer end, then" (although when he said it, it sounded more like, "Oi, the noicer en' ven", with a proper, East End accent), which led me to gracefully segue into an article I had read in the Guardian that day about the squalor of Notting Hill in the 60s.  "Oi reilly?" he said. "Yeah, srsly," I replied.  We continued on like this for a few minutes until I hopped out and paid my fare.  "It was noice cha'in wiv ya!" he said with a smile.  "Likewise, have a great night," I replied.  I unlocked the door to my flat with a smile on my face.
But seriously - don't talk to strangers.  Only nice ones.


  1. I've been addicted to talking to strangers since I returned from China. It's just such a thrill that I *can*!


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