Talking to a Stranger

Working in a retail environment, I’m bound to face numerous strangers, both open-minded or ignorant in which I have to present a friendly facade to provide the best customer service. As skilled as humans can be to hide behind their masked self or literal mask, I’m able to identify whether the rest of our interaction will be appealing by the initial “hello.” That in itself is a problem. Humans tend to be greatly judgemental but especially with strangers. Dissecting their style or mannerisms, it’s easy to lack sympathy with a life insignificant to ours even though the up front we provide the most ingenuine version of our self. So when do we break this boundary? When do we decide to be raw and does this impact our first impressions. One thing I’ve faced being an extrovert growing up and having a job where I have to filter my emotions into a professional front is that people both closely bounded or a mere stranger value the truth. A lot of the time, customers never care to ask me how I’m doing. They want their shiny new item in a bag, ready to jet out of the store. But the few customers that do consider my existence, ask me about my day and as an employee there’s a hesitation to open up assuming that they are asking to be kind. Despite that feeling, I take the given opportunity to make a joke to comment on the stressful atmosphere of the busy store which surprisingly builds a form of trust. They wake up to recognize that I feel and struggle just as they do which is a gateway into a meaningful conversation. Nothing feels as freeing as being able to open up to a friendly stranger as there is no pressure of judgement if they initiate vulnerability before you do. So after the joke of my stress, the customer takes that moment to relate on their daily struggle which leads to a humorous banter.

Me Captured in the Heat of the Stress at Work – photo by Jalen Matias

Further into the topic of value behind truth in a retail environment, I am blessed enough to not gain commission which actually serves as an advantage as it avoids coworker competition. This aspect in my workplace likewise allows me to be honest with customers about their clothing choices. For example, in my recent shift a lady was on the search for a winter coat of a specific length and thickness. It was quite difficult to find and we went through a variety of jackets till she picked up a beautiful lavender coat. It was the perfect length and held the right amount of warmth but she hesitated. Instead of doing the routine, “oh my god it looks so good on you,” I suggested that when I shop I have a rule of thumb that I only buy clothes if I am truly obsessed with it. She took a long glance at the coat and realized she was buying it out of obligation and decided to place it back on the rack and thanked me for my help while complimenting my eyes. It was a pleasing interaction and led us both in a positive mood since my advise went against my role as a retail worker which signified honesty to her. She proceeded to put in a good word for me to customer service which alleviated my stress for the rest of the day. So the lesson here is that despite your inclination to put on a false image to a stranger in hopes that it will allow them to like you, simply be brutally honest and vulnerable since a likewise genuine person would respond positively back.

Illustration by Saskia Keultjes

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