Being a foreigner gives you kindling to start conversations (that you otherwise might never have had).
“Where are you from?” is the opening line that you only get as a traveler (or a foreigner).
How you respond is a delicate balance of:
- Where you are actually from.
- What the locals think of people who come from where you come from.
- What you think of where you’re from.
- What you think of where you are.
- Mood, environment, scene, prejudice, etc.
The local train conductor doesn’t have much to say to the local train traveler other than, “Tickets please.” and maybe “Have a nice day.” But when she asks my 10-year old a question about his ticket and then she notices his accent, the floor is all ours–if we want it.
They talked for several minutes about bicycling and taking the train, where we were from and how long we’re staying for. The three conductors helped us off with our (gazillion) suitcases, waved us goodbye with smiles and best of luck.
This “excuse” to start up a conversation with complete strangers is a gift that only foreigners or travelers have.
Of course, if you don’t like striking up a chat with strangers, well, IMHO, you probably don’t really enjoy travel much anyway.
There are so many opening lines you can pull from to talk to complete strangers in just about any situation.
- Excuse me, do you know how to get to ________. (Anywhere!)
- What’s the ________ system like here? How does it work? (Take your pick: school, education, tax, transportation, you name it.)
- Ask about the food, the weather, a good restaurant. It doesn’t really matter, it’s just an excuse to start a connection with someone.
Secret bonus tip? You don’t actually have to be a foreigner to use all of these tricks, but it just makes it easier.