Before I start telling my stories, let me share that this is me, photo bombing my own picture of a central hall in the National Museum of Scotland, because I’m goofy that way. The National Museum comes into the story later. Onward to the stories.
I save all my spare change in a plastic kitchen bowl whose lid must have emigrated to New Zealand many moons ago. How is that for a random conversation starter?
It sparked an impromptu conversation with the teller at my credit union today as I was celebrating, aloud, the fun of having about $40 to add to my bank account and how it was pain free savings. I throw coins into the plastic bowl and, when I judge it’s time to make a deposit, I almost always have just about $40 accumulated. Not bad for just eyeballing it. This month my cash flow is particularly tight, so it was totally satisfying to add to my balance.
The teller told me he has customers, a married couple, who always set aside any $5 bill they get in change and throw that into savings for vacations or other extras. I allowed this was another excellent idea, though not quite as painless in the execution as tossing change into a bowl, because a $5 bill is so eminently spendable! But I concede to myself that if I could do that, the accelerated savings would be thrilling.
Then I mentioned the two little people in my life and how their parents are teaching them the value of saving with piggy banks. Then he mentioned the credit union gives youngsters a free piggy bank after they reach an initial savings goal. This bank is shaped like an airplane because, after all, this is a credit union that was originally for airline employees. The airplane bank has two slots for two compartments, each clearly labeled: For Saving and For Spending.
I told him the last time I visited my six-year old sweetheart she was thrilled to go to their credit union with her mother and hand her money to the teller. She felt incredibly wealthy and proud when she received her slip back that said she has about $200 in her account.
Then I veered off into the story about how, while she and her mother did their banking, I stayed home with a napping baby brother, a kitchen knife and her piggy bank. It was my job to fish out all the poker chips she had poked into her piggy bank, whose slot was large enough for them but whose tummy opening was not large enough to let them out. I asked the teller why he thought anyone would design a piggy bank whose slot and tummy hole were not equal in diameter? He had the perfect answer. He smiled and said, “Clearly they don’t know any children.”
That’s about the most silly and random conversation I’ve had in a while. But there have been other random chats with strangers that have been satisfying and interesting. It’s easy to strike up these conversations when you travel, if you share a common language, because people abroad seem generally tolerant of the vagaries of tourists.
I had a pleasant time talking with a volunteer greeter at the National Museum of Scotland when I visited Edinburgh, while I was waiting for my wandering husband to rejoin me. I can’t even remember how the conversation started but I am sure it involved smiles. I do recall gazing out their picture window at the street with the Greyfriars Bobby statue in the median strip and saying aloud how I’d have to go into the cemetery to find the dog’s burial marker.
Then the museum fellow asked me if I knew the Harry Potter books. I felt like rolling my eyes but was polite and did not, just nodded. He proceeded to tell me J.K. Rowling apparently would stroll through that burial grounds, taking note of names, and jotting ideas for character names. It’s supposedly how she devised the name Tom Riddle. Then he told me about the two cafes up the street where she would sit to write those books. He also mentioned, with pride, how when she became successful and rich, she paid the government back for every cent of welfare support she relied on as a single mother while struggling to write.
So, although you might start with a simple question (where is the ladies’ room?) don’t neglect to add some additional comment as I did (what a lovely view you have of the street from here, oh, Greyfriars Bobby, I’ll have to find his marker) because you never know where a random conversation will take you and how much fun it can be. If I can do it, a dyed-in-the-wool introvert, surely you can too.
Don’t overlook the mundane and everyday chances for these conversations. I order groceries delivered. It’s not appreciably more costly than schlepping to the store and carting stuff home myself and it’s an incredible time saver. So one day, I was passing time with the delivery guy as he handed in my grocery bags and lo and behold, I discovered I was talking to another writer! One who was nearing publication of his book about the statues created in honor of all the Peanuts comic characters that had been displayed all around St. Paul, Minnesota at one time. We bonded over writing challenges and he updates me on his book’s progress whenever he happens to be the guy delivering my goods.
People are just fascinating if you only give them a few minutes of your time. Strike up some random conversations. Have fun because life can be pleasantly goofy!