New friends at the next table

We all eavesdrop on our neighbors sitting at restaurants. But are you ever allowed to actually join in a stranger’s conversation?

Yesterday, I stopped by a new restaurant (Father and Son in Skokie — I recommend it!) for a quick lunch on the go. I had about 20 minutes to order, wait for my food, eat, and get back in the car in order to make it to my meeting on time.

I didn’t bring any reading material to the restaurant, so I sat, playing with Pinterest on my phone while I waited for my food.

With two men at a table only inches away from mine, I couldn’t help overhearing their conversation. The 20-something men looked like an odd couple — they wore casual clothes but spoke as if they were on an awkward first date, asking each other basic questions like where they lived.

They started talking about digital cameras — and they even discussed my beloved Canon S95 as one of their favorites. My food came, and though it was hot, I tried to scarf it down as quickly as I could. One of the men made some sort of comment about women or girlfriends that I didn’t hear — and then he turned and spoke directly to me saying, “No offense to girls!”

“What?” I said. “Oh, sorry, I didn’t hear what you were talking about. … But I did hear you talk about digital cameras, and I have the S95, and I like it a lot, too.”

“Oh, that’s cool,” said Guy #1. “What do you like to take pictures of?”

We chatted about taking pictures of nature and weddings and friends, and then talked about work and gyms and neighborhoods. Guy #1 was eating a margherita pizza flatbread and asked if I wanted to try a piece.

I quickly assessed whether or not they could be trying to poison me, and I decided they probably weren’t. So I tried a piece. “It’s really good!” I said.

It was time to head out to my meeting. “Nice chatting with you,” I said as I got up from the table.

I wrote just a few weeks ago about the art of talking to strangers in the elevator (and I must admit, it’s harder than I thought) — so I took careful note of this pleasant interaction with strangers. Sometimes at restaurants the tables are packed so tightly together that I almost feel that we’re all at the same meal, and I almost interject a comment about how I read the book they’re discussing or that I’d like to try a bite of their tortellini.

It may be difficult for me to find the courage to reach out to strangers in situations like these; but I find myself glad that there are people out there who are brave enough to reach out to me.

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