tatum van dam
I once met a guy while in Skagaströnd - a small town in Northern Iceland.
He had recently gotten out of jail for four months due to the fact that he had a garden consisting of copious amounts of marijuana (four hundred plants, to be exact). He was also a former meth addict. These two facts do not reflect him as a person whatsoever. Shortly after his release, he moved from Reykjavik to the tiny town of Skagaströnd, to live a peaceful life away from the city.
He was one of the only people around to help my friend and me when our car was stuck half a tire deep in the snow. He had just taken a shower, and for the purpose of helping us, he dug into the muddy snow with his bare hands, turning his black sweatpants and leather jacket completely dark brown, proceeded to lug an entire log under our car, and helped us escape the (literal) mess we had gotten ourselves into. While doing all of this, he told us about his life - and hearing what he had to say was eye-opening.
He was one of the most real, most genuine people I have ever met. When we asked how we could repay him, he told us that he “didn’t need anything” and that he “believes in good karma”. After convincing him to let us buy him a gift, he told us he wanted chocolate. Dark chocolate. So we drove an hour and a half to the nearest store to buy him some dark chocolate.
I once met a guy who had a pit bull. As an owner of two pit bulls, we immediately bonded over the fact that they are the greatest doggies in the world. Anyways, a few years back, this guy was not in a good place in life; nor was it the place he wanted or deserved to be. He rescued a dog, a pit bull mix, and named him Sonny. And Sonny completely turned his life around. I didn’t have to see the look on his face as he explained this; you could hear it in his voice.
Sonny saved his life. The saying that "a dog is a man’s best friend" never reigned to be truer than in that moment. He began to document Sonny’s day to day life, and crazy enough, Sonny became insta-famous! Sonny the Pitbull loves to wear ray-bans, and currently has his own line of sunglasses.
I once met a man who has lived in many countries and knows many languages. When he saw my last name, he asked me if I spoke Dutch (in Dutch). After telling him "I wish" and explaining my Dutch roots, he then told me a little bit about himself.
Though he was born in the states, he moved to Greece as a teenager. His parents owned a fancy five-star cod restaurant - and along with a fancy restaurant came its fancy frequent-goers. There was a couple who were considered “normals”, and they nearly adopted this man (who was a boy at the time) as their child. Soon they were off to move to Paris and invited him to join. Surely enough, he packed a suitcase and left to Paris the next week.
After living in Paris for a few (seven) months and realizing it was plus cher - he took off to live with a friend in Germany, to which he hitchhiked to. When he arrived in Germany, the Berlin Wall was being torn down, and there he found work at an automotive company. If I continued to tell his story, it would take a long time (this was just the beginning), but this guy has experienced some incredible things that we can only look back on through reading history books and watching documentaries and visiting landmarks.
There is something these three people share in common - before hearing their stories, I didn’t know who they were. (And to an extent, I still don’t).
There are many things we (or at least I) were told growing up: “Don’t judge a book by its cover”, “In case of fire: stop, drop and roll”, “Don’t turn on the lights in the front seat of the car” (which, now that I think about it, why wasn’t I allowed to do that?), "Treat others the way you would like to be treated"... you get the picture. Anywho, these are things we just knew to, or not, to do. Of all these golden rules, there was one in particular that I heard repeatedly during my adolescence, and continue to hear today. And that rule goes as follows: “don’t talk to strangers”.
Before continuing the rest of this article, I would just like to apologize to my mother and the rest of the authoritative figures in my life who have advised me not to talk to strangers.
I mean, there’s just something so intriguing about not knowing anything about someone.
I realized this the most upon first entering college. I was in a new environment surrounded by people who knew absolutely nothing about me. They didn’t know that I was from the suburbs of the East Bay Area. They didn’t know I was a drama kid primarily all of high school, and they didn’t know that I spent a solid portion of my youth making embarrassing YouTube videos.
When we are speaking to a stranger for the first time, we somehow automatically trust that whatever they tell us is the blatant truth. Like, I could have told my new classmates that I was the descendent of an old English monarch. I could have faked an accent or faked an entire lifestyle for the matter. To top it all off, I even could have told them that I am related to Jean-Claude Van Damme (though I have told people this before), and perhaps I could slip in that my middle name is Channing. When you're talking to someone you don't know at all, the possibilities are endless. However, in no way am I encouraging you to create a whole new identity for yourself - it's just the idea of unconsciously trusting what someone tells you about themselves that interests me.
Talking to strangers is important - there's a reason as to why communication is key in every, and any relationship.
If we didn’t talk to strangers, we would be stuck in our comfort zones. We would continue to think that it’s weird or awkward to approach someone and talk to them, even though it really shouldn’t be. If we didn’t talk to strangers, our curiosity would never be curated, and our minds that long to be open would remain closed. We would be less empathetic and lack the ability to truly see things from someone else’s point of view. We would be trapped in our own thoughts with no outsider perspective, and we would be nobodies.
It’s the little conversations with the people that I don’t know that make my day. Whether it’s getting to know the worker at Dulce who makes my matcha lattes every day, or telling the DPS officer on the corner of my street to “have a good night” each night I see him, a little message like that can completely turn someone's day around. Some of the most interesting people I have ever met were people who were willing to recite their stories without knowing anything about me aside my name.
The point of this article is pretty straightforward: talk to a stranger!
Talk to your next Uber driver, and talk to the people you pick up along the way. Talk to a public service worker and ask them how their day is going. Talk to the person who chooses to sit in the empty seat next to you. Talk to the quiet kid in the corner and talk to the person you think is cute. Talk to anyone, and talk to everyone.
Because a little conversation can go a long way.