Tell me things about talking to strangers
with Anne Kadet
As the adage goes, everyone you meet knows something you don't.
I’ve long aspired to be the sort of person who curiously gleans stories, tidbits, and heartfelt confessions from the people I meet. As someone who oscillates between feeling outgoing and feeling shy, sometimes I find such connections effortless, and sometimes I falter in hesitation. If I miss my moment with a stranger, it will be something I’ll often mull over in the days that follow.
There is an art, I think, to talking to strangers and creating the kind of connection that allows anecdotes to rise to the surface. I think Brooklyn journalisthas mastered said art.
Talking to strangers and finding out what they know forms a big part of her weekly newsletter,. Features range from analysing strange sidewalk trash piles to interviews with random senior citizens and chess hustlers to the last man without a cellphone.
Anne admits that many of her most interesting stories have come from requests from her readers to investigate something. Still, I think there is something so alive about Anne’s approach that must be credited directly to her curiosity.
Anne finds the hidden, the humorous, the all-so-human sides of New York City in a way that only she could. It’s in the singular that we find something remarkable, and I’m always left with a feeling of appreciation the for the world and the people in it.
Reading Café Anne is a reminder that we're here to get to know each other. So with that, I hope you enjoy reading Anne’s insights on how to get to know people, as well as enjoy getting to know Anne. Alongside tips on talking to strangers, below you’ll find tidbits on intuition, writing and wearing the same thing every day.
Tell me things about talking to strangers with Anne Kadet
How do you approach finding strangers to talk to, and do you have a go-to conversation opener?
I'll approach anyone who looks interesting. My opening gambit is extremely sophisticated. I'll walk up to a person, smile and say, "Hello, I'm Anne—can I interview you for my blog?" Most times they say yes.
What are the typical roadblocks or bumps you might encounter in trying to talk to strangers? Do you have any trusty workarounds?
I have rules about who to approach. The subject must be sitting down—it's rude to stop people in transit, especially here in New York City. Everyone is in a hurry.
I also avoid folks who are on the phone or chatting with others. It's about being considerate. If someone is reading, I stand in front of them for a bit. If they look up, I know they are open to chatting.
You're a journalist by trade, so we can assume getting good at talking to strangers comes with the job. But I'm curious if there was ever a time when you felt shy before approaching someone new?
I still feel shy about approaching people! It's not a feeling I think I'll ever overcome. I just accept that I'm scared and do it anyway.
It helps that I can usually rely on my intuition. I stop before I approach someone and ask my gut, "Yes or no?" I don't force it. On my best days, every person I approach is happy to chat.
Any pointers on how to tap into your intuition? (Sometimes I feel like mine is saying yes and no. It's hard to decipher between intuition and anxiety!)
For me, intuition is a deep and peaceful knowing that is beyond words and conceptual thought.
To tap in, I need to relax, slow down and get calm. Closing my eyes and focusing on my breath for a minute or two makes a big difference. It's impossible to access inner wisdom when your mind is racing. It lies underneath the thoughts.
Another trick is to ask, "What will produce the best result for everyone involved—not just me?" My intuition responds best when I try to consider every person's welfare.
You mentioned you still feel shy sometimes, but have learned to accept that and approach people anyway. Is there anything that helped you get to that point?
Okay, this is the truth. What helped me get over my shyness was drinking! I saw that if I was outgoing, friendly and interested in what people had to say, they responded well. I learned so much from drinking. Too much, really. I drank way more than my share and then I had to quit. I've been sober 19 years. But I'm not sorry about all the drinking I did!
What's one thing someone could try to get better at talking to strangers?
I set a good intention up front. If my aim was merely to get good material for my newsletter, the person would likely clam up. So I make it my goal, in every encounter, to be kind, to be a good listener and hopefully add a little fun to the person's day. I'm on their side! I think people can sense that.
Your newsletter’s fundamental premise is that people in general are decent and kind, not to mention generous. How does this philosophy help you be a person in the world in general?
People live up to your expectations. If you expect folks to be decent and kind, that's what you get!
I think this is because when you assume that someone is good, you will automatically hold them in high regard. Folks can feel that, and they like it, and they will open up! They will want to help you.
Café Anne is such a delight and often filled with dozens of conversations, updates, photo stories and more each issue. What's the process behind creating each edition?
I am always looking for stories. When I'm chatting with others, walking around, shopping for groceries, riding my bicycle—I'm evaluating the experience and my surroundings for story potential. There is no off button.
I record every idea in a little notebook I carry in my purse—no matter how stupid and half-baked. And then once a week, I type the ideas up in an Apple Notes file. This file has hundreds of ideas.
When it's time to plan the next issue of my newsletter, I browse the idea list and ask myself, "What would be fun to learn about or explore this week?" That's it. That's the whole process.
Your advice to “create the newsletter you'd want to read” has been immensely valuable to me. What advice has shaped your own relationship to writing and creating?
My favourite writing advice is George Orwell's wonderful essay, Politics and the English Language. I read it once a year. It keeps my writing straightforward and clear. When I get stuck writing a story, I remind myself, "Just be honest. Just say what happened!"
I also love Brenda Euland's If You Want to Write. The creative impulse, she says, is a feeling of love and enthusiasm for your subject, and the desire to share this love. She advised simply depicting your subject as accurately as you can—precisely as it appears to you. You can't go wrong.
Unrelated to strangers, I also heard that you wear the same outfit every day. What does this afford you in daily life?
I've worn the same outfit every day since 2017, with a summer and winter version. I buy multiples of each item in the same colour (black) and order everything from Amazon so I never need to go shopping.
When you think about it, almost every occupation requiring serious focus and dedication—cop, nun, nurse, soldier—comes with a uniform. My newsletter is not really a serious endeavour, but I do want to reserve my time, energy and attention for what matters to me. I also eat the exact same thing every day—at least on weekdays.
Now I’d love to know what things do you eat every day!?
Haha! I am a nosybody about this kind of thing too.
For breakfast I eat one cup of Fage 5% plain Greek yogurt.
Lunch is Salad #1: four ounces of tofu, two hard-boiled eggs, shredded carrot, cherry tomatoes, red onion, romaine, olive oil.
Dinner is Salad #2: eight ounces of chicken breast, shredded cabbage, spinach, red onion, olive oil.
That's on weekdays. On weekends I eat whatever I want including including candy, cookies, pizza, etc. A great Saturday lunch is pretzels with peanut butter and a chocolate bar.
Back to strangers, how does talking to new people make you feel more alive?
When I am talking to a stranger, I have no idea who they are or what they might say. Anything could happen! They might say something that changes my life. Being totally open to any possibility feels very enlivening.
And with that, what is aliveness to you?
First, aliveness is freedom and spontaneity—welcoming change and new experience or seeing old things afresh. It means being open to the whole shebang. This means letting people do their thing rather than judging or trying to control them. Just marvelling. My sister and I like to say, "A rich tapestry!" and we laugh and laugh.
But aliveness is also a function of discipline. It's the result of having trained one's mind to the point where you can choose how to respond to any situation rather than being enslaved by your default reactions. If you don't have that capacity, you're just a robot. I am always endeavouring to grow in non-robotness.
Many thanks to Anne Kadet for taking part in this series with such joyful insight! Be sure to subscribe to for her regular life-affriming conversations and endeavours.
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