Striking up a chat not the done thing

23:12, Jan 07 2014

You just don't really talk to randoms in London.

At least not willingly.

I'd guesstimate that, at least 43 per cent of the time, if you are talking to a stranger in London you are frightened.

I don't mean to slag off my (still kind of sort of mainly) new city - nutters are everywhere, even Southland - but it feels as if the bigger the city, the less voluntary eye contact.

Involuntary eye contact, on the other hand . . .

Anecdote 1: Waiting for group of friends outside Aldgate East station, to go for TFGIF Brick Lane curry and overpriced East-End-is-cool- now-derrrr cocktails; creepy man clutching brown paper bag bottle of booze starts trying to chat you up; when you are resolute in your ignoring him, he asks if you "want a slap", and then even more alarmingly, "a knife", before screaming in your face about heaven and hell.


Anecdote 2: A guy who was punched in the face, for being falsely accused of touching somebody's "missus".

Anecdote 3: Already mentioned, but the hair sniffer. I hate to go on about it, but even after all this time and all those showers, I still feel kind of unclean.

It's generally accepted that the higher the proportion of blood alcohol, the higher the propensity to yarn to people you have never met.

(Sometimes, this is what fuels events similar to those outlined in anecdotes one through three. Stay safe.)

A group of us had been for dinner on Kingsland Road in the so-hip-it-hurts enclave of Hackney.

What Brick Lane is to curry, the Kingsland Road is to pho - and I always enjoy opportunities to pretend I am back in Nam. On this occasion, I enjoyed things - by things, I specifically mean a bottle of cheap sauvignon blanc - slightly too much.

(Also, question: Why is it the cheaper the bottle, the drunker you get? Somebody tell meeeeeeeeee.)

After becoming ensnared in some leftover Halloween decorations (fake cobwebs) at a post-food pub, it was time for a certain redhead to call it a night.

I tottered to the Tube, then started chatting with an equally sav-happy Irish couple sitting across from me. They were wearing approximations of the Fred and Wilma costumes I so ineptly tried to make last year.

(Thanks again to Mark's grandmother - lifesaver!)

Adele and I-can't-remember-his- name were treated to all sorts of, ahem, scintillating drunken conversation - from what happened to my iron when I tried cheating, and used iron-sticky-tape instead of sewing Mark's orange Fred suit, to my little trip to the Emerald Isles earlier in the year.

They were fairly new to town, too - and we all agreed Londoners needed to talk to each other more. They needed to be willing to make new friends in strange places, like we just had. Then the train arrived at Earl's Court and I had to say goodbye. Forever.

I had forgotten my phone number.

Being nice to people in a city wherein that behaviour is rare has other advantages, too - like having your coffee shop loyalty card stamped multiple times on a daily basis. (My record at this point is five in one go. Complimentary white chocolate mocha, I'm coming for you.)

I'm not quite sure it's a good thing that some of the people I spend the most time talking to, are the staff in the Eastcheap Caffe Nero, but I'll take it. Since starting work in February, I now know much of their life stories and they mine. They also start making my skinny latte with sugar-free caramel as soon as they see me. Which is nice, because it's ready about midway through our convos, and just big enough to last until the customer behind me starts making annoyed noises in my direction.

Being friendly, however, sometimes make you feel like you've done something wrong: I never knew "how's your day been?" could seem so surprising. Or could lead to such an energetic, enthused conversation about why I needed to get with the times and start watching Breaking Bad.

If there's one thing to look forward to this winter - and God knows it's not London's inclination to sludge - it's the patter-with- strangers material the colder months bring.

How 'bout that weather, eh?!

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The Southland Times