#1 – When do you consider a person ‘known’?

Encounter with a stranger

I take the Canada Line often on my commutes, and so do a sizable amount of other people in Vancouver, from local citizens to international students. My recent encounter with a stranger began by a coincidence, which then I decided to pursue. It happened at Robson Square when I was waiting at a red light on my way home, when a young woman who was gripping her phone for her life approached me to ask for directions to Vancouver City Center station.

That’s where I was headed, too, so I told her it’s straight down the street, and that I’ll walk with her there since we’re headed to the same spot. Because of bad past experiences, I am typically skeptical of strangers when I am in downtown Vancouver, but I feel like I only offered because she looked to be only 2-3 years older than me, and something about the worried tone in her voice and the way she was frowning told me she was genuinely lost. It turned out I was right, and we ended up walking to the station and boarding the same train. Our conversation moved slowly as the young woman had to occasionally put some of her words through Google Translate (she had come to Vancouver from South Africa to study English), to me it was fun to get to embrace a pace of conversation that is unusual.

Unusual but fun was what my encounter with this stranger was – it also made me believe that everything happens for a reason, as we found out we’ve both worked in UX design. Her frown and worried tone completely gone at this point, the woman asked me about the specific areas of UX design that I was interested in, and surprisingly, this topic was where she used Google Translate the least, despite all the technical jargon we were throwing at each other.

We ended up following each other on Instagram, and shortly after, she got off at her stop. Her phone battery had ran out at this point, but I saw that she got home safely through seeing that she had posted a scenic photo on her Instagram story a couple hours after our encounter.

When do you consider someone to be “known”?

Based on how to talk to strangers, to consider someone “known” there has to be some sort of established understanding of the person, or one should be able to anticipate a person’s response to the things you say. The article discusses the phenomenon of ‘civil inattention’, where people who are strangers to each other will be civil towards one another, but not be ‘attentive’ – in other words, alone together. In this same article, Kio Stark speaks about how stranger-encounters are a way to disrupt routine – in other words, it could be considered that non-strangers are those who do not disrupt your expectations for the day; someone who’s behaviour you could predict.

While the woman was definitely a stranger to me when she asked me for directions, as I kept talking to her we kept finding out that we had more in common than we would have imagined. I wonder if someone “known” to you is someone who you feel a connection to – how else do you motivate yourself to give attention instead of civil inattention, or be able to ‘know’ to a degree that this person isn’t going to disrupt your expectations? In that sense, despite only knowing her for the length of a walk to a station and a train ride home, I feel like I consider the woman as someone “known” to me.






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