Wednesday, 6 August 2008

"The Future's So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades" - Timbuk 3, 1986

Have you ever heard of the term "familiar strangers"? I guess I was living in NYC when I first became aware of the term. It refers to people you see a lot but never actually get to know at all - and, in some cases, they are people with whom you never even have a conversation. Those of us who use public transportation or walk to work (as I used to in Manhattan) end up seeing a lot of the same people all the time.

I often go into a Sainsbury's Local food shop when I get off the Oxford park and ride bus in the morning. I've found it's a good place to buy lunch, water, juice, etc to take with me into the office. One of my favorite familiar strangers works on one of the tills there. (A till is the same thing as a cash register in America.)

I don't know her name, as she doesn't wear a name badge. She's probably in her early-20's and is of Asian descent - which here in Britain means that her ancestors were from India, Pakistan, or Bangladesh.

Here's what I knew about her, prior to this morning. I knew she was attending one of the colleges within Oxford University and was soon to graduate. She's been suffering an elbow problem and couldn't get the guy on the next till (which is a mirror-image of hers) to trade with her, so that she'd be bagging groceries with the other arm. And her studies have stressed her out so much that she once told me she's losing some of her "luxurious hair". And I guess that's about it.

I was assigned to her till #12 this morning. I asked how she was doing. She told me, with a big smile, that she had just graduated and was starting to look for a "real job". She doesn't know where in the UK she wants to live, as she's not from Oxford. I asked if she was stressed. She laughed and told that she's too tired to be stressed at this point.

As she bagged up my stuff, I doled out my lots-of-life-experience view of things. I told her that she should try not to be too stressed and think of this as the start of her next adventure. I said something about how even though the economy isn't great, there are lots of interesting career opportunities out there. I also told her that I firmly believe that there are always good things in life for good people. And I wished her lots of luck, in case she's off the till when I drop in again next week.

She looked like she was going to cry. And then she said to me, "Thank you. You make me very happy."

Wow. It's not often that you hear that from somebody you don't know at all, is it?


PS I saw Mr. Floweredy-Hat again this morning, proudly wearing his colorful bonnet despite the lack of sun. And he had a new addition to his outfit - a Che Guevara T-shirt!


At 06 August, 2008 14:38 , Blogger Raquel said...

What a great post, which I can totally relate to. I have so many 'familiar strangers' in my life. In particular, a few neighbors in my apartment building who I see on a daily basis and exchange pleasantries with, but I really don't know them at all. In fact, one really nice lady who lives behind us talks to me daily, however I don't remember her name. Terrible I know, but it just goes to show you how we can see people every day and not really know who they are... :)

At 06 August, 2008 16:45 , Blogger Gnightgirl said...

This post made me feel smiley too. I was just reflecting, this morning, that with our office's summer hours (7 a.m. to 3 p.m.), I've spotted more morning walkers in my neighborhood, and have taken to waving them all, as I drive to work. We go back to 8-4 hours in September...and I won't see them anymore! Wah!

At 07 August, 2008 17:38 , Blogger Girl.Meets.Chile said...

Lovely post, made me smile. I think you really made her day. Bless you!


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