Talking to Strangers

There's a  little patio bar atop the Bayside restaurant at Venetian Village in Naples that's become our local - the place we stop mid-afternoon for a glass of wine or a beer. Over the years, we've gotten to know Scott, the bartender, pretty well.  Scott's one of those guys who knows everybody pretty well. There's definitely a local clientele at The Bay, but Scott never sees a stranger, and no matter where you're from or how long you're in town, if you're sitting at the bar when Scott's tending, you're a regular.

On a nice day, when it's not so humid that your wine glass drowns in its own sweat, or so windy that the plastic sheeting surrounding the bar gets battened down, we might sit there for an hour or two, staring out at the McMansions that line the bay with regal finesse, or the McYachts moored in stately splendor. And every time we go to The Bay, we get involved in fascinating conversations with strangers.

I typically don't talk much to strangers. For one thing, I'm pretty shy and it's hard  for me to strike up a conversation with someone I've never met. For another thing, the old axiom about "never talk to strangers" has been a hard one to let go of. In the 1960's when I grew up, it was drummed into our with mind numbing regularity. But at The Bay, it's expected. Maybe it's like that at all neighborhood bars, I don't know, because we don't have a local here at home. It seems like people around here like to keep a healthy distance, even when they're drinking. Maybe they're afraid you'll steal their secrets, or gather some information you can use against them. I don't know. Whatever the reason, the few times I've sat at the bar anywhere around here, people don't generally talk much amongst themselves.

But people at The Bay are very gregarious. Everybody seems to know Scott, so we all have that in common, and we tease him about his golf game or ask him about his dogs. There are always some tourists, so we all chime in with our favorite places they simply must see-eat-shop-golf. There are usually a few older men having a cocktail after a round of golf, and occasionally (if I'm the resident cute young thing, which I often am - this is Naples, you know) they'll flirt with me a little.

Yes, I even flirt back.  It is The Bay, after all.

We once met a wonderful horsey couple from southwest England who spend every November in Naples. We exchanged email addresses and I'm under strict order to contact her the next time we're across the Pond. We met a couple who had just purchased a vacation home to be close to their daughter and her husband who were living in the area. (Sound familiar?) We've surreptitiously eavesdropped on conversations with brokers, realtors, business partners, and probably lovers.

It's just about our favorite place in Naples, and I think that's because it's an opportuity to connect with interesting people, even if only for a few minutes.

Our friend L., a world traveler whom we've been lucky enough to travel with on occasion, is famous for his habit of carrying on conversations with strangers in every corner of the world. He'll saunter up to just about anybody in the street and start talking. "I like that hat!" he'll exclaim. Or "What a great car!" If the person happens to be walking a dog, we know we might as well duck into a coffee shop because they're liable to be there all morning. I love to watch him engage people in conversation, and rarely do people fail to be engaged. They might appear non-plussed for a moment, especially in foreign countries, as if such an affable American is an real anomaly. But within a second or two they'll be smiling and gesturing, and the two will part with smiles and a handshake.

It might be nice if we talked to strangers more often. These days we often bury ourselves in our electronics rather than make eye contact with anyone. I'm guilty of that - if I'm having a cup of coffee at Panera, or waiting for my mom to finish grocery shopping, I'll whip out my phone and check e-mail, or Facebook, or the latest blog post. Instead, I could look around the room, make eye contact with a stranger, and initiate a conversation.

It makes the experience more memorable for everyone.

How about you? Do you talk to strangers much?