February 24, 2013

How to Talk to Strangers

I debated writing this post or not, but concluded I should.

I went for a run today and decided to go explore a new (to me) section of town. I decided to run as far as 30 minutes would get me and then cool down by walking to enjoy being out side. During my run, someone in a white car did a simple honk and wave. I didn't know them, but whatever, I'm from a place where you wave to strangers - so I waved back. Later, I'm running along and someone else just waves at me from their car. "Oh, hey, I don't know you, but I'm a waver," I think, so I wave back at them. 

After finishing my run, I walk around downtown (where my run has taken me) and then head back home. When I'm not far from my house, a man parks his car on an adjacent street gets out and walks over to me. I am taken aback to say the least. 

He says, "Hey, do you need a ride?" [Red Flag! #1]

"No, thank you! I'm just exercising. I'm fine, sir,"

"You sure? I am just trying to meet a friend to practice my English with..."

"Oh, that's great. The library has a great Spanish-English conversation class, where you could practice with other people."

"Oh, I am already in school [points in some direction] and trying to get my GED."

"That is great."

I should say here that I kept a solid 4 foot distance between us. He didn't step closer to me and he kept his distance. 

"Where do you live?" [Red Flag #2]

"Oh, around...not too far."

"I live on [nearby] street."

"Oh, great!"

"I'm not going to do anything. I just want to make a friend."

Then it dawns on me that I had seen him driving around...and he was the one who had honked at me and then later waved at me. And I realized that he had followed me.

"Did I see you around...earlier when I was running?"

"Yeah, maybe two times." [Red Flag #3 - Dude, strike 3 you are SO out.]

"Okay, I need to get going."

"You are very pretty. You have beautiful eyes." [Red Flag #4]

"Thank you. Have a nice day."

"I'm Jose."

"I'm Katie."

He extends his hand for me to shake...and I do. He walks back to his car and I walk back to my house. I keep looking over my shoulder wondering if he's going to follow me back to my house. I don't see his car come this way. Did I mention this took place in broad day-light? On a main road in town? 

I hate that my first thought after that encounter is that I'm too nice or I'm too naive or I'm too unsuspecting. I hate that I smile and make eye-contact with strangers. I hate that when I went to the store tonight, after this experience, I was afraid to make friendly eye contact with a stranger. I hate that I feel lucky. I hate that I don't know what the true intentions of that man were. I hate that I couldn't be more frank with a stranger. I hate that I imagined the worst of him. 

After most situations, you walk away with more clarity than you had in the moment. I do anyway. I had all sorts of curt/frank remarks after the fact, but I also wonder if those curt responses would have incited him to anger or aggression. "Sir, it makes me uncomfortable when you compliment me." or "I don't feel comfortable sharing that. I'm sorry, sir." or "My name is [insert FAKE name here]." Instead I was overly polite and we both walked away.  

I'm frustrated that I need to re-analyze where I run. I'm not at BC anymore, where I can just run around hilly-nilly and smile and wave at whoever I want. However, it's not as if I ran through a really rough part of town. I was BLOCKS from my house, which is where most abductions and assaults of that nature take place. Now, I just feel paranoid. I already don't run at night, because it's so cold here. The weather was sunny and perfect for a run. I guess I'll stick to my usual route from now on... 


  1. I'm pretty sure that wasn't a creeper, but instead a cultural difference. Many Hispanic cultures are a lot more open about personal info like that. Sounds like he was just an awkward dude trying to meet an attractive young lady.

    1. You know, that's kind of what I was thinking, too. If he had ill intentions toward me - he had already parked and gotten out of his car, what was stopping him? He was nice and not aggressive, but his questions and approach just caught me off guard. Somehow, it would have been different if he was walking down to the street and asked me a couple questions. Instead, he kind of followed me around and then got out of his car. I'll chalk it up to cultural differences and social awkwardness, because I don't like to dwell on the alternatives.

  2. I think it's important to err on the side of safety- of course someone may be being friendly, but it's OK to walk away from a situation that makes you uncomfortable. The next time, you'll know exactly what you want to say and how you want to say it.

    I would be torn about not running through that section of town again because of an experience like the one you described {and I have had similar ones & similar conflicted feelings}, but I tend to be rather stubborn and hate being made to feel as though I should stay away from a place because of someone else's actions.. so I would probably run through it again just to prove some vague point to myself.