You know, I’ve been looking back at some of my stories and realized that the majority of the strangers talking to me seem to be men. I mean that both literally and figuratively – as dear Judith Butler puts it, gender is entirely performative… It also looks like whatever I do, I can’t escape being approached by people – it’s as if I have a 36-inch Times New Roman message on my forehead inviting everyone to SPEAK TO ME!
Case in point: I went to my university two days ago, on a public holiday, to hand in some documents. The place was deserted – just me, a couple of dozy students, and three admin staff. Excellent! I say to myself – there is no way in a million years some stranger will come talk to me now. But wait, what’s that? As I am blissfully ambling along the corridors, headphones in, a short, middle-aged guy in a jogging outfit grins at me, and stops in his tracks. I can see him mouthing something. NOOOOOO! I inwardly shriek. “Yes?” I utter politely, switching off my music. “Where is the kitchen?” the guy repeats. “The kitchen?” I ask puzzled. “The kitchen.” he confirms. How the heck would I know? I didn’t even know our university had a kitchen. “I can tell you where the cafeteria is…” I offer. “No” he sniffs “I already know that” and walks away. Errrr….
But it’s not only men who seem to be compelled to talk to me. Oh no. It’s women too. A few days ago, out of the 50 people standing on my tube platform, who did the middle-aged lady choose to ask for directions? Even if I was visibly listening to music and had my earphones firmly in? And even if I am possibly the least qualified person to help, having moved to the city only a few months ago? You got it.
Last but not least is an encounter that happened to me while shopping in my local supermarket. Which is rather undeserving of that title, but it’s where I get my bread. Or try to. Anyway. So, the deal is this. I normally don’t have a 1-euro coin to use for the shopping trolleys, and find them too cumbersome anyway for the small space. And they don’t provide baskets. Which leaves me one option only – to store everything in my bags, and take everything out back at the check-out. This has caused problems in the past, as another shopper started placing her items on the conveyor belt immediately after mine. When I hadn’t even managed to get 20% out of my bags. When I shyly pointed out there was no space left for my things, she retorted: “But how would I know you have 100 more bags? Ha! Well. I have fewer things, so I’ll just go ahead of you.” And she did.
This story, however, is a tad different. Because I only had one bag, and so had to pile groceries in my arms. Slowly, the molehill turned into a mountain – and with one sudden move everything spilled on the floor. What are the odds? But anyway, after 5 minutes spent meekly collecting everything, this elderly lady approaches me and points to one of the huge metal boxes the store uses for sales items. “Look!” she goes. I watch her with apprehension. “Come, come!” Oh, I think. Maybe I missed something – those sneaky ham packets sure can fly! I look inside, and can only see some store trash – wrappings and such. “Get that!” the lady commands me. I blink, confused. “Oh, maybe you can’t reach it.” she concludes. “Never mind, I’ll get it for you.” And she reaches all the way down, grabs and produces a small cardboard box, the size of a shopping basket. “Here, to carry your shopping so it doesn’t fall” she smiles and presents it to me. I smile back. I love strangers.