Christina Simon's Blog

Beyond The Brochure

Christina Simon

Christina Simon
Location
Los Angeles, California, USA
Birthday
March 22
Title
Mom Blogger
Company
Fat Envelope Publishing
Bio
Christina Simon is the co-author of “Beyond The Brochure: An Insider’s Guide To Private Elementary Schools In Los Angeles.” She also writes the blog, www.beyondthebrochurela.com about applying to private elementary schools in Los Angeles and the ups and downs as life as a private school mom. Christina is a former vice president at Fleishman-Hillard, a global public relations firm. She has a 9-year-old son and a 12-year-old daughter. Christina lives in Los Angeles with her husband and kids. She has a B.A. from UC Berkeley and an M.A. from UCLA. Christina has written recent guest blog pieces for The Huffington Post, Salon.Com, Mamapedia, BlogHer Syndication,The Mother Company, The Well Mom and numerous other blogs.

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AUGUST 1, 2011 11:58PM

Talking To Strangers

Rate: 22 Flag

 Goggles Conversation Piece

Goggles: Strangers Stop To Speak To Her 

The other day my 11 year-old daughter told me she thinks I’m friendly and outgoing. I was secretly thrilled. Those aren’t two adjectives I’d use to describe myself, but I’ll gladly embrace them, especially coming from my daughter.  

A shy child, I’ve worked to put shyness behind me, or “override” this trait, as a therapist would say. Not because I think there is anything wrong with being shy, but because shyness doesn’t get one very far in the jobs I’ve held. Shyness would not, I decided in my early 20s, advance my career. 

Now, in my 40s, I find myself effortlessly striking up conversations with strangers. Or, I respond to strangers when they talk to me. My younger self wasn’t always so friendly or accessible. If someone tried to speak to me, I’d mumble something quick and turn away. Rude, I know. But, over time I’ve learned there can be something incredibly genuine about talking to people who I don’t know and won’t see again. It’s a refreshing change from my somewhat insular life in L.A. where this sort of thing is often frowned upon.

There are people who never talk to strangers. There could be a million reasons why they don’t. Maybe they find it useless. It could be the “stranger danger” fear factor. Or, maybe they’re just hardcore snobs. Then, there are those people who will chat with anyone, anytime about anything. They’ll talk your ear off, even as you’re politely saying good-bye. Then there are those in-between, like me.

Talking to strangers permits me to redefine my own rules about talking to people I don’t know. Some of my favorite conversations happen while I’m waiting… handling mundane, but necessary activities like waiting in line, waiting to pick up kids or waiting in line to get coffee. Learning what’s on someone’s mind and reflections about how their day is going can be a subtle pick-me-up. I’ve come to realize that two qualities I admire most in others-- and covet for myself-- are friendliness and confidence. After all, friendliness is a sign of confidence.

Last week, as I sat in the shade waiting to pick up my daughter from summer camp at an exclusive girls school in L.A. another mom sat down next to me. I expected people at this school to be aloof and unfriendly, but they’ve proven me wrong for two years in a row. I said “Hi”. She smiled. After the other mom and I exchanged ‘hellos’ it was as if we were old friends. Without me asking, she began telling me about her visit to the doctor earlier that day and her anxiousness over the fact that he found a suspicious bump on her pale, freckled skin. She confided she will need to go back to the doctor again for removal of a large section of the skin surrounding the suspicious area. As the words tumbled rapidly from her mouth, I sympathized with her and reassured her that her doctor was just being careful and she was lucky to catch the spot early. Because I lost my mom to breast cancer I told her that every year before I get a mammogram I’m ready to lose my mind. Taking off my oversized black sunglasses so she could see my eyes, I shared with her that waiting for the results brings another wave of sickening panic every year. She understood, telling me she’s a psychotherapist, and gave me the name of her doctor for my next mammogram, “He’s the best in the city,” she said. After that brief, intimate conversation, our kids arrived. We waved goodbye.

In the coffee shop near my house a few months ago, a woman approached me and said, “You don’t know me but I read your blog and I recognize you from the photo”. She’s petite, bubbly and talkative, sort of the opposite of me. I’m tall and reserved. We instantly began chatting like long lost friends about her search for the right school. Since then, we haven’t seen each other again, but she’s written several guest blog pieces for my blog.

How is it that I can have such intensely personal discussions with strangers? Does everyone do that? I don’t think so, especially not in L.A. Maybe I’m weary of putting up a “bubble” so I don’t have to talk to anyone I don’t know. Perhaps others are too. I’ve never wanted to live in a small town where everybody knows your business, but living in a big city can make one realize there is value in saying “hello”, being friendly and offering someone a “have a great day” before they’re off. L.A. is known for being a bit standoffish, especially if you didn’t grow up here. I did grow up in L.A. and I still find it alienating some days.

Mind you, I don’t talk to all strangers. I avoid the tiresome weirdos and obvious serial killer types. But random strangers, men and women, whose names I don’t know, but who I find interesting without knowing them, are my way of making this big city more humane. That said, I wouldn’t dare open the door for a stranger…not in this town.

Sometimes, after a brief conversation with a person I don’t know, my mood is lifted. I stop focusing on things that are making me anxious and stressed and focus on the moment. That’s my biggest challenge, staying in the moment.

A short discussion about which coffee is best or where someone got a particularly cute handbag or pair of shoes can be uplifting in a way I never realized. A compliment about a bag or earrings can lead to information about where to buy the item, whether it was on sale and if there might be any left. It’s a reminder to me that the simple things in life are often the best. It’s also a reminder for me to get out of my own head for a while.

Walking my black and white pit bull, Goggles, always leads to conversations with dog lovers who stop to compliment her, sometimes running across the street or park path to pet her, ask if she’s part Dalmatian (she’s not) and tell me she looks like a dog from a TV commercial. She loves the attention and I’ve grown accustomed to it.

While in the grocery store line the other day I had an upbeat conversation with the checkout girl and the woman behind me in line about Palm Springs (we love it), the outlet stores (crowded), L.A. traffic, tiredness (the checkout girl was “uber-tired”) and the awful Nordstrom Rack store nearby. I had $400 worth of groceries and the woman behind me had one cookie she munched on as we talked. She wasn’t in a hurry. By the time she got to checkout, her cookie was gone.

There’s something very personal and yet equally impersonal that comes with talking to people I’ve never met. Living in a big, fragmented city, smiling at someone I don’t know or a quick exchange gives me a sense of community that isn’t always present without these brief, enjoyable conversations. It’s a fascinating peek into another person’s world for a few minutes. It’s an intangible connection in an unconnected city. Wondering more about the person I’ve chatted with briefly rarely happens. It was just a fleeting moment in time that has passed, but one that often leaves a lasting impact on my day and perhaps theirs too.

If you were to ask me if I talk to strangers, I’d hesitate. Then, I’d say yes, I do. 

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Comments

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I enjoyed this post. I had a similar transition out of shyness and now I am fascinated by asking strangers questions and listening to their answers. Its incredible how much they tell you.
rated with love
Christina, How I loved every word here. I live, most of the time in NYC, and the reason I returned there was 'for the converation." I especially loved your piece because what you do, staying open despite earlier shyness, defines sometimes the happiest part of my life. I thrive on talking to whomsoever appears, I'm not brash but you know that, it's allowing the opening to deepen and o my G. does it ever make our days fuller.

PS: great writing as well. in Miami, you are not encouraged to either chat with "strangers" nor to join in conversations. At least this has been my experience after being in NYC most of my life and it's so easy there. I had no idea LA could also be that way. I just arrived in France and though several acquaintances and all friends speak english, I miss that love-on-the -run you so well describe. R Brava
I feel so 'at home' reading your inspiring and encouraging post. I must constantly remind myself to not be indifferent, to strangers.

It must be an invaluable habit to have, the reason why a leadership programme that I attended some years ago covered a segment of connecting with strangers. We were then asked to feedback to our coach, and reflect on our experiences. I remember I wanted to dig a hole and hide myself. :-)

Thank you! *R*
I do the same thing, Christina. I think we all long for a sense of community, and find it where we can. It's hard to connect in a big city, and I spend most of my days in NYC, where I work and rehearse and socialize with friends, but I often find myself talking to strangers. Like you, not all strangers. I think it's a natural, human inclination, to connect.
Really warm and thoughtful. r.
"Friendliness is a sign of confidence." I agree! ~r
Christina, I have been amazed at how many people initiate conversations with strangers and have a wonderful experience. Your exchange with the other mother while waiting for your daughter is a perfect example! I think many start out shy and work their way towards being more outgoing as they are out in the world more and more.

A few years ago my mother-in-law was sitting at a counter in Nantucket one morning waiting for coffee and John Kerry sat down next to her. My mother-in-law is very good at starting conversations as is John Kerry, as we know, so in talking with her he soon realized that her stepson had helped out a lot during his presidential campaign and he spoke highly of his assistance in helping the '04 campaign.
I wish I could be more like you. Strangers have all kinds of stories for us writers to put through our individuators and make all our own.
Great post and I talk to everyone hahaha
HUGGGGGGGGGGGG
Your great story proves not all strangers are strange. Just look at Open Salon. Few who participate here have actually met in person yet words and images often break the stranger barrier.

Very nice piece.
I related so much to this. I was also a shy child who decided she wanted to feel more connected to others, so I have pushed myself over the years to be more outgoing.
Enjoyed this very much, and I find many similarities with my own experiences.
Christina, I agree with you about the dog. Being with a dog removes so many social barriers. It makes me smile when so many people know the dog's name and have forgotten my name. Thanks for this...
Wonderful piece. I think we all want to connect with other people, especially if you're a writer, you probably spend more time alone than most. How great to have a stranger come and compliment you on your blog, too!
I love this post! I, too, talk to strangers, especially in lines or crowds. I try to make them laugh. Anything that connects us more, particularly in disconnected Los Angeles, is a godsend. And I've found that a dog makes it particularly easy to shoot the breeze with a virtual stranger.
love this post. i, too, am a person who speaks with strangers, and started doing so to overcome my self-consciousness and shyness. everyone has a story and people like to share even a tiny bit of it. i know i do, and i enjoy hearing other people. :) thanks for this. :)
It's nice to hear of someone that is not so into themselves they have no room for others. Congrats on the EP!
That is one cute dog!
Everybody has a story and people need people.
Very nice, and beautifully written.
This was great! I was like you as a child and now, also in my early forties, I enjoy being less shy. My daughter is exactly like I was finding it hard to look people in the eye when she speaks, but she's doing much better than I did at her age. My other child is almost the complete opposite.

It's interesting how, at times, I can still have a small panic attack when a stranger speaks to me sometimes resulting in an awkward silence or comment. Yesterday, I was writing and asked my daughter to help me think of times I have stuck my foot in my mouth. She laughed and came up with way too many. In my writing, I'm fearless and bold and can respond to strangers' comments with ease.
This is a great post and I so appreciate you writing about this subject. I've gone through my own metamorphosis from shy teenager and young adult to someone more confident and interested in the lives of others and the richness their experience and example might bring to my life. Or simply the sun that seems to shine from the smile of someone my life touches briefly. I am an introvert who has learned how good it is for my soul to reach out and connect with others on a regular basis. My mother, an extroverted, friendly woman who is now a youthful 90 years old, advised me to do this a decade ago after my sons left home, I was recovering from an illness, it was the dark grey of mid-winter, and it seemed all I did was work. The new small town I'd moved to had limited opportunities to meet people, especially for someone who didn't attend church. "You need to get out and make some friends," she said. I replied that I did not, I'm an introvert, blah, blah, blah. But a few months later, I took her advice, started looking for ways to open my heart more to others and connecting with them. She was right, though I still found it difficult in that town to meet other people. Now, I still live in a small town, but there is a university here and the atmosphere is much more open and welcoming. A wonderful community-wide organization (non religious) exists that connects people of similar interests together in groups that meet once a month (book clubs, gourmet cooking, etc.).

Anyway, I like your line about it being a reminder to "get out of my own head" for a while. So very true. In this time of so many friendships taking place online, there is something great about looking a stranger in the eye, exchanging a few words with a smile, and letting that person know we are all on this earth together.

Rated and shared on FB too.