Tuesday, September 27, 2011

stranger danger

"don't talk to strangers." we've heard this adage our whole lives along with stories of needles in the halloween candy and just saying "no." unfortunately, your mom can't do your job interview for you and eventually you'll have to deal with the grocery store clerk or the homeless man asking for spare change. in almost every situation you encounter, you'll have to say more than "no" or "yes." here are some examples and advice on how to talk to strangers.

the passer-by.
the most important thing to do in ANY conversation is to make eye contact and, when appropriate, smile. this is basic human connection. when and where you should connect changes with culture and personality. having grown up in the deep south, i think it is rude when i pass people in the park and they don't make eye contact. but when i lived in new york city, it would have been impossible to make eye contact with everyone i passed so we all just kept our eyes on the sidewalk. never before had i felt so lonely, and never before had i been so surrounded by people.
by the way, if you see someone you think is cute, a great way to get their attention is to look them in the eye and smile. 

the service industry.
consistently over-worked and under-paid, service industry employees are often disgruntled but hardworking. when talking to them, let them know you appreciate the work they do. this can be as simple as saying thank you and leaving a decent tip. (after my year of waitressing, i never tip less than 20% and often tip close to 50% when i am satisfied with the service.) be sure to give them the benefit of the doubt if they are grumps. if they make a mistake, correct them kindly and allow them to fix it before getting angry or demanding to speak to their manager. you will often get more out of being nice than you will by causing a scene.

the repair guy. 
this includes all your basic services - plumbing, electricity, sewage, cable, deliveries and so on. basically any situation where professional work is being done in your home. it can be off-putting and sometimes unexpected.
if they need to come inside your house, make sure the area they need to access is clear of clutter. put animals outside or in another part of the house in case of allergies or phobias. when they arrive, direct them to the area and be prepared to describe any problems. give them space to work but don't disappear entirely. when they are finished, allow them to explain what they have done and if any future service is needed. (you may want to have a pen and paper handy for this conversation.) 
if they are outside your house, go out to greet them and make sure the area they need to access is clear of clutter and pets. again, allow them to work alone. i always offer a glass of water (because i live in texas where you can get dehydrated on a rainy day) but they rarely accept. when they are finished, meet them at the door and listen to any explanations they may have.

the secretary.
if you're talking to a clerk or secretary, it is almost always going to be in a professional setting where certain things are expected of you. first, dress in business attire (something i'll detail more when i discuss interviews) and use your inside (courteous and even-toned) voice. there is a certain script people follow that starts with your basic greeting and something like, "how may i help you?" you should then state your name and purpose for being there. use names if you can and if you have an appointment, say so. smile, say thank you, and do as directed. do NOT use your cell phone unless it is silent and you are alone (or, of course, in emergencies). 

the interviewer.
this is a big one. i'll have an entire entry soon all about resumes and interviews, but for now lets just run through the basics. eye contact is HUGE here. try to hold eye contact for as long as possible. put all cell phones on silent and put your nervous tics aside (fidgeting, shaking, blinking, scratching, and chewing) and be as stoic as possible. if you are interviewing at a restaurant, never speak with your mouth full! in fact, a good rule to follow is to take fewer, smaller bites than the interviewer. never take a bite that is bigger than what you can wash down in a few seconds if you are suddenly asked to respond.
you can look up a zillion standard interview questions on google to prepare your answers to questions like "what is your biggest failure" or "why should we hire you," but keep in mind some key words to fit into your answers. when reading the job posting, what words did they use? put these into your answers subtly but as much as possible, like subliminal messages that say "i've got everything you want." 

the doctor.
though they are here to help, it can often be a little scary to talk to doctors on your own. they will ask you extremely personal information so that they may better determine your health. questions about sex, diet, and addictions. these can be extremely difficult to talk about because they are so often connected with emotions. remember that doctors, just like therapists, have patient-doctor confidentiality (meaning they can't go blabbing to anyone about your situation, not even your parents) and they have an obligation to help you when you are feeling bad. there is no reason to lie to them. 
for years i would twist truths to my doctor because i was worried about what she would think about me (or worse, what she would say to me). but after a few failed attempts at therapy, i began to open up more to my medical doctor. i began to explain the physical aspects of my emotions - the ulcers and panic attacks and consistent exhaustion - and she almost always has a non-medical answer or resource for me. it helped me keep in mind that what i put into my body will directly influence my mood (for example, mcdonald's = depression). some people call this "natural healing," but it just seems like good sense to me. 

the police.
those blue and red lights can strike fear into your very core, no matter the situation. the police are often on one very obvious side of an argument - either they are there to help you or to lay down the law. 
if they are there to help you, remain calm. these men should be experts in dealing with emotional situations, but in my experience they will not listen to you if you are upset. be as descriptive and objective as possible. do not say, "he was a maniac!" instead, state the specific and articulable facts (legal words that you can throw around to let the cops know you mean business) like "he was driving at least 60 miles an hour and turned left at a red light while swigging from a bottle of vodka."
if they are there to ticket you, be courteous and honest. if you know why you are in trouble, do not try to lie your way out of it. don't immediately start to blame someone else. they have very little patience for that. instead, tell them the facts as you see them. if there was an outside force causing you to break the law (for example if you were speeding because every car around you is speeding and it is unsafe to go slower), take responsibility for your own actions while explaining the situation - do not place the blame unless you can back up your innocence with facts! 
if they want to search you, your car, or your home, maintain your rights! cops must have a warrant to search any locked area of your car (such as the trunk or glove compartment) or your home. they can, however, pull out a K9 unit, search your person and the cab of your car without warning or reason. however, if you calmly ask them to state the specific and articulable facts before they search you, and they cannot name any, then you not only have a valid argument for recourse but you have let them know that you are familiar with the law, or at least a lawyer. (cops and lawyers rarely get along.) they will definitely think twice before randomly searching you.

the authority.
"i'm going to have to ask you to leave." have you ever heard that line? as a librarian, i've had to say it many times to people who were there to sleep or fight or bathe (yes, bathe) instead of using our public services. sometimes employees are forced to use their authority over a customer, whether it be to kick them out or give them perks. when dealing with an authoritative stranger, it is best to remember the tips from the service industry: be polite, acknowledge the work they do (and that they are in fact on the job while you are not), and state any argument you have in a calm and clear voice. if you pitch a fit and raise your voice, not only will you annoy the other customers, you will not be taken seriously by the employees. it is perfectly fine to be upset, but you must still request to be heard, state your argument with relative facts, and accept that you may not always get what you want. that's the way it crumbles, cookie.

the beggars and crazies.
some say that you should avoid eye contact with the homeless and beggars. i think that this is rude and inhumane. there are always exceptions, but for the most part i feel like even if i can't offer a quarter, i can at least smile at them. (a pretty girl's smile is worth more than 25 cents anyway, right?) begging is extremely cultural and most of your reaction will come on instinct. in some instances, you will come across someone violent and crazy and you should avoid them if possible but be kindly dismissive of them (say, "sorry, i don't have any change, but good luck," without breaking stride), but be careful to not confuse dirty for crazy. everyone is subject to bad luck and hard times, so don't assume that every beggar you meet is a lazy drug addict. treat them with the basic respect every human deserves.

the picker-upper.
if it hasn't happened yet, just wait. one day a random stranger will ask you for your number, or for a date, or to have a drink. maybe you talk for a minute, or maybe you realize right away that you are not interested in this person for whatever reason. you could try the jenna marbles approach, or the many other tricks to get out of conversations (the sudden cell phone call, the "oh, will you look at the time" ruse, or the "i have to go pick up my boyfriend from his skin head meeting" line), but there are some more respectable methods. often, these pick-ups are a result of unabashed lust, and they might not have much interest in conversation. if this is the case, then bombard them with your strong opinions on any subject that comes up. be honest, be passionate, use this as a venting session and save some money on therapy! or you may want to cut them off immediately, in which case just be straightforward and tell them that you are not interested. try to be honest without being brutal. (i wish there was a script to follow for that conversation!) remember in the wonderful words of andrew jackson jihad, "people are people regardless of anything." 

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