Meeting new people can be an intimidating experience; it’s the fear of the unknown most likely. But at the same time it can be really enlightening and I really believe that you can learn something new about the world or even yourself from every single person you come into contact with – if you are open to it.
I recently had a really interesting encounter with a stranger when I was on a flight home after one of my trips. I ended up sitting next to a guy for three hours; he was no more than a few years older than me. I remember noticing he was reading something like a National Geographic and I was curious about who he was – not as in I thought he was a celebrity but just as a person. I wondered about his story.
After about an hour of sitting there listening to music in my own little bubble, thinking about life no doubt, I took my head phones out and asked him if I could look at his magazine which he had since finished. He said “sure no problem” in a thick Irish accent. A few minutes later the trolley came past us and he ordered some coffee and a sandwich from the flight attendant – in Italian. I caught his eye and made a comment about how well he spoke the language. He went on to tell me that he was half Italian and half Irish, that he had moved to Dublin from Italy when he was about nine years old and that his dad still lived there. He had just flown in for one night for his Grandads 80th birthday party. We spoke about his family for a while, he told me his Grandad still Skis competitively!! Now if that doesn’t give you motivation to get out there and do something I don’t know what will.
We spoke for the rest of the flight, and it was honestly one of the most interesting conversations I’ve ever had. It turns out he was a doctor in one of the top hospitals in Ireland, a lung specialist. His girlfriend (of six or seven years) is a GP specialising in female health. When he mentioned how long they had been together I gave the typical response of bringing up when he was going to pop the question. “No pressure then!” I said. He laughed and said “Oh there’s lots of pressure don’t worry! Mainly from myself if I’m honest. It will happen soon, it’s time.” He said all of this with what I can only describe as a coy smile – a tell tale sign of his plans. It was sweet to see the love he has for her so evident in his face.
He told me they had taken the previous year off work and travelled together. They did Asia, Australia, The USA and they finished off by spending four months working in a quiet Ski resort in Canada. They worked in an equipment hire place bringing ski gear to guests’ cabins in the mornings – a world away from the hospital! He said they had worked and studied for so long that they just needed a break and some time out together.
I told him my story too – about my life, my urge to see the world and we also spoke about my passion for my career. He was so interested in what I do – he asked so many questions about the advertising world and the company I work for, it was quite unexpected. I mean here’s a guy who is saving lives, who has studied for years to become a specialist and has an amazing job, whose partner sounded equally amazing, and who has travelled the world; and he wanted to know all about my life and my career? It felt good. Knowing that I was bringing some substance to the conversation too, he learnt about something new from me, as I did him. (After talking to him Tokyo is 100% on my bucket list!!)
So we spoke the whole way to Dublin, and the whole way through the airport, when I got delayed at passport control he waited on the opposite side for me and we walked the whole way to the front door together still chatting. When we got to the door he stopped and said “Oh, by the way, I’m Alan.”
We shook hands and I said half laughing “Nice to meet you Alan, I’m Rachael.” We had gone that whole journey without introducing ourselves, or even realising that we hadn’t because we were so caught up in the stories.
He said “Rachael; Go travelling.”
I replied “Alan; ask her to marry you!”
We laughed, turned, and went our separate ways. I will probably never see Alan again. Or hear the undoubtedly romantic way he proposed to his girlfriend. But I will always have the memory of that particular connection I made. You can never underestimate who is going to find you interesting or who you are going to click with. Just because someone is more educated, travelled, older/younger or different to you – doesn’t mean you don’t have just as much to bring to the table or that it isn’t possible to make a connection. Be open to new people, even if they don’t seem from the outset like your type (I’m talking platonically here but the same is true for relationships). If someone had told me that morning I would spend a couple of hours having a genuine conversation and getting to know a lung specialist I’d have looked at them sideways – what would we possibly have in common? Well, you’ll never know if you don’t allow yourself to find out..
Written with love,
“Why you should talk to strangers” – TED Talk