30 Unbelievably Strange Encounters With Random Strangers That These People Just Can’t Forget About
When we're making a bet, there's always the possibility of a loss. No matter how good the odds are, in life nothing is certain. (Well, maybe except for death and taxes.) So when we gamble on meeting someone new, we have to understand that it might not work out.
Interested in the bitter end of socialization, Redditor confoozulment asked other platform users, "What is the strangest interaction you've had with a random stranger?" and they received plenty of awkward, cringy, and even creepy stories.
We thought why not take a look at this online discussion; maybe it'll teach us how to deal with the unexpected. To help us make more sense of it, we also contacted the author of the post and Arjen Stolk, Ph.D., who is an assistant professor at Dartmouth College, where he directs the Mutual Understanding Laboratory.
Quick background: I'm from the UK, I'm a recovering alcoholic (nearly 4 months sober now) and used to sit in this beach shelter at night after work and drink 8-10 beers. One night this guy came over holding a glass of wine and randomly started chatting to me. He said he regularly jogs past that shelter in the mornings and picks up the empty beer cans and bins them. He basically got me to admit it was me, he knew my name and where I'd bought the beers. This freaked me out at first but it turns out he'd been picking up the receipts id been leaving there which had my name and the shop location on cos of my clubcard.
Anyway, he basically went on to ask why I drank so much and if there was anything that had happened in my life to make me live that way. For some reason I told him some of the dark secrets from my past that made me turn to drink. It turns out he was a policeman, and not just any policeman, but the one who arrested Roy Whiting (the killer of sarah payne) and after a bit of a conversation he told me about himself, and what he said to me I'll never forget. He said "I have 4 kids, and you never know, you could be number 5" and that hit me hard. A random stranger just decided to talk to me and offer me a love that he somehow knew I'd never been given. Well fast forward a year or so and i no longer drink, we stay in contact on Facebook and whenever i see him around we have a hug and a catch up. He always beeps me when he drives past. Thankyou, Paul.
Dr. Stolk told Fashion Life that, assuming there are no pathological factors, the likely reason for why so many of us are terrified of striking a conversation with a stranger is that we have yet to build a shared context with them, and this constrains our communication.
To further illustrate his point, Dr. Stolk offered a quote from his recent article in Psychology Today: "When we produce words and other behaviors during a conversation, we are not just transmitting information. We are implicitly using those behaviors as a tool to organize and align our thoughts with one another to the extent they form a shared context. This is seen in how a barista's 'what size?' constitutes more than a counter-question regarding quantity. It additionally conveys the ability and willingness to process our coffee order, allowing us to update our shared context with that knowledge. By considering the current shared context, we can rapidly zero in on relevant details and possible interpretations of each other's utterances, as when we implicitly infer the barista is not asking for our shoe size."
Without shared context, Dr. Stolk believes "the possibilities are even more open-ended than usual, making the challenge of selecting an appropriate opener more daunting."
When I was 30, I had a sword fight with a boy about 11 or 12 in a Rite-Aid. He was standing there looking at the plastic swords, and when he looked up at me, I held my sword out and gave a nod, like let's go. I was at the other end of the aisle, so we run towards each other and take a huge swing. When the swords connected, and they shattered into a thousand pieces. I mean they exploded. He's got a look of utter shock. He starts looking around and I gave him a, don't worry about it, I'll pay for them. I think they were about 3 bucks each. His mom didn't notice as she was checking out. He's gotta be in his 30's now. It was fun.
I guess not really strange, but it's stuck in my mind for over 10 years.
I had just moved halfway across the country for work. After a couple of months there, my great grandmother passed just before her 101st birthday. I got an early morning flight back to my home state. The lady next to me was probably just near retirement age.
I wasn't crying, but just keeping to myself as one does when traveling with things on their mind. Once we were able to let our trays down, I dropped mine and laid my head and arms on the tray, and just watched the city lights out the window. For nearly the entire flight, this woman started rubbing my back and told me everything would be okay.
I normally hate being touched, and honestly don't seek comfort very often. But that was one of the most comforting things that's ever happened, and I just let it happen. So wholesome strange I guess.
Dr. Stolk hopes the barista example shows that conversation is first and foremost an alignment challenge, "requiring people to continuously seek and provide evidence for their mutual understanding as they move through topics expanding their shared context." Therefore, he thinks that a good conversation is one in which people manage to do exactly that.
And hopefully, some of these not-so-good examples won't discourage you from putting yourself out there. In a series of studies titled 'Mistakenly seeking solitude', researchers Nicholas Epley and Juliana Schroeder asked Chicago-area commuters to strike up a conversation with someone near them on the bus or train. Those participants who followed this instruction felt better than the ones who had been told to stand or sit in silence.
Epley and Schroeder argued that when we shy away from casual interactions with strangers, it is often due to misplaced anxiety that they might not want to talk to us, but as it turns out, many people are actually perfectly willing to have a chat, and might even enjoy receiving our attention.
No one in my family wanted to ride the Aerosmith Rock ‘n’ Rollercoaster with me so I went solo and got seated next to a guy who didn’t speak English. I knew ahead of time that they take your picture as the ride blasts off so I made a face (rock fist, tongue out). At the end of the ride, my ride partner and I went to look at our photo and amazingly, unknown to the other, we had both made the same face and gesture. We both laughed when we saw it. He said something to me I didn’t understand, gave me a hug, and we parted ways. I still think about him 6 years later.
Working as a nurse In a nursing home, suburb of Boston. One day one of my residents get a visit from two elderly residents. One is his friend, the other a stranger to him, who gave his friend a ride (they were in their 90’s and only one of them drove). The driver started a conversation with me while his friend visited with his friend. He asked me where I was from, parents, grandparents. Told him my mother was originally from Dorchester Boston. He asked me which part. I said Ashmont station area, ocean Street. He asked me if my grandfathers name was Hugh. I told him yes and my grandfathers last name. He then named all my aunts and uncles names, including my mothers and asked me who’s child I was. Turns out this man, who drove his friend into the country to visit a dying friend, was my grandfathers business partner (who I never met). My grandfather had died about 15 years before. What a small world. I couldn’t wait to get home from work to call my mother and update her that I met Saul Goldman. (She remembered him and his family fondly). Made me happy to be alive. I know he enjoyed meeting me as well. It was as if thru both he and I, my grandfather came back alive for a few minutes, just then.
confoozulment, who created this post out of boredom while they were just sitting around in their room, told Fashion Life they think that, as with most things in life, practice really does make perfect, and if someone wants to have better conversations, they should just keep at it.
This seems to be very true. According to Gillian Sandstrom, Ph.D., and senior lecturer in the department of psychology at the University of Essex, there's some skill to it, but mostly socializing is a thing of confidence that comes from just doing it more often.
To encourage people to do it, she also led a workshop for individuals who wanted to learn how to get better at talking to strangers, and asked participants about those conversations — both before and after they happened.
The results revealed that both prior to and after having the conversation, people thought they would find their partners interesting but they didn't think that their partner would find them as interesting in return. However, the beautiful part is that Sandstrom reported "nearly everyone says the conversations actually went way better than they thought."
I was in Boston one night with friends and started to sing show me the way to go home. A girl on the other side of the street walking in the other direction sang every other verse with me for over a block and a half. We were quite loud before we ended.
I was at Busch Gardens in Virginia, maybe 9 years old when an elderly man walked up to me and gave me a 1 million dollar bill with his face on it. I still have it
confoozulment thinks there's also a form of freedom in talking to people you don't know. You realize the stakes aren't that high. "When it's complete strangers, pretty much the worst you can do is have a little awkwardness and then not see them again," they said.
Dr. Stolk agreed that grounding yourself is one of the best things you can do in such scenarios. "Awareness of the fact that language is inherently ambiguous (words can have a number of - in fact, infinite - meanings), and that success of a conversation depends on more than just the opener, can help to downplay the perceived weight of the first words and consequences for one's self-image, overall lowering the threshold to approach strangers," he added.
I was studying in a uni library when I see the guy sitting next to me turn his head to look at me for a moment too long. I turn to look at him and he sticks his arm out and offers me some cheetos. I politely turn him down and we both go back to studying, he doesn't make any attempt to interact with me again.
Fast forward a few months, I'm heading back to my home State from a completely different State 3 hours away on a bus with assigned seating. It's relatively empty other than maybe 10 others max all in random areas of the bus. I'm minding my own business when the guy in front of me gets up on his knees on the seat and turns around to face me. It is the same guy from the library. And what does he do? Stick his arm out and offer me cheetos.
Was at a horror convention. My wife, and two friends we met at the con were at the after party. It was an out door event at the hotel's pool with a death metal band and Sid Haig serving people drinks with the money going to charity.
We were just laughing and joking around when out of the blue an older man entered our conversation. He started by laughing at whatever story we were talking about and we all kind of stopped to look at this dude.
This guy was dressed to the nines in all purple. A purple stripped suit, a purple cane and a purple tophat with ribbons. His white beard was dyed purple as was his mustache. He had purple gloves on, purple dress pants, and purple shoes. And this was no cheap cosplay - these were pretty damn expensive looking clothes.
Immediately we are fascinated with him. We welcomed him to the circle. He introduced himself as "Mr. Purple." and that he was "Curious to what was going on at the party." Apparently he had no idea there was a horror convention going on - that he was just somewhere nearby and saw the after party and decided to come by.
He was not odd or unpleasant. He was actually quite nice, joyous, and fun to talk to. He never got into who he was or what he did or why he was purple ; but just made small talk with all of us as we continued sharing stories. Eventually he tipped his hat and thanked us for chatting with him before heading off. We did not see him for the rest of the party.
I will never forget you Mr. Purple. Whomever you are.
I was around 16 (F) at the time and at the mall with my two guy friends. We split up in the food court and while I was aimlessly walking around trying to pick out food, someone bumped into me from behind. I assumed it was my friends but as I turned, I was handed a BABY from a man I’ve never met. He then backed away towards a woman and they started laughing. It looked like she was taking pictures of me with her phone. They spoke in a language I didn’t recognize and kept backing up further away while looking at me and laughing almost as if trying to make me follow them. All the while I’m holding a strange baby in the middle of the mall food court too stunned to move. After what felt like hours but was maybe a minute or so, my friends walked over to me very confused and why I had a baby. Before I could even utter a word, the man and woman ran over, took the baby and left. 11 years later I still have no explanation.
I was a senior in high school and was waiting for a bus at the local mall near my school. I went there a lot senior year to relax. I always kept my headphones in so no one would talk to me because I am painfully shy and awkward. On this day, a man tapped me and gestured for me to take off my headphones. I was struck by how bold this was of him and he didn't seem weird so I obliged. He greeted me and asked me if I had a moment to talk about the lord ☠️
Now, I am not a religious person at all. I don't believe in God really in the same way other people who read the Bible do. Nor do I know much of anything about the Bible. However, I usually let these people talk to me if I have nothing better to do because I like to hear about other people's ideas. This guy gives me the whole usually run down of a Bible passage, what it means, we do a little prayer, and then I expected him to be like oh come to my church. That's what usually would happen, because that's usually the aim of these interactions.
However, this man looks me in the eyes and says "I came over to talk to you today because I can see you're going through a tough time. If you're comfortable, I'd like to know your name so that I can add you to my daily prayer." I was struck by this because I actually was going through probably the worst time of my life so far. I obliged again and gave him my name. He then takes out a notebook (full sized, college ruled) flips to almost the very end and writes down my name. This man had a whole book full of thousands of names (I am not good at math so this may be an overstatement) which he said he included in his daily prayer. He said he made it a point to approach people who he saw were struggling and to include them in his prayer. He was very aware he would never see these people again, seeing that he travelled a lot, but always wanted to be sure they were acknowledged by the Lord (something like that).
He went on to say that he doesn't care if I believe in God, or if I go to church or anything. He just wanted to take the time to show me that he as a human wanted to assist me in the way he felt was best, which in this case was through prayer. After that my bus came and we parted ways. I still don't believe in God or anything, but this did strike me as strange in a sort of wholesome way. Strange because idk how he knew I was struggling. The majority of people who knew me on a surface level or saw me day to day at the time who know me better now have said they didn't know I was struggling. To be fair, I did my best to hide my emotions to anyone I wasn't close to. Tbh, that interaction left me wondering if maybe that dude was some sort of psychic. I could also just be easier to read than I think. I think it was nice of him though, it definitely made me feel somewhat positive in a very dark time.
Just arrived at a music festival in the Faroe Islands back in 2005 with my friends and this girl I'd never seen before leaps around my neck, gives me a kiss on the cheek and wishes me a happy birthday before running off into the night, check my phone and its literally just struck midnight on my 21st birthday.
I'm Canadian, so keep that in mind... (also pre-covid)
I bought a coffee and package of cookies and sat outside on a bench to enjoy the summer day. I sat on one end and put my things in the middle of the bench.
Another guy sat down on the other end of the bench and put his things down. Then he opened my cookies and ate one.
I was surprised.
I reached over and took a cookie and ate it. He looked at me sharply, then, keeping eye contact, he reached out and took another cookie and ate it.
I was again surprised and I'm sure it showed on my face.
I reached out and took another cookie and ate it, washing it down with coffee. He did the same.
We continued on that way, each eating a cookie and staring at the other.
When I ate the last cookie I stood up and picked up my things. That's when I saw the unopened pack of cookies under my coat.
In Portland OR I was walking into the Pearl District around 7:00am, I was the only one walking on my side of the street and a guy walking the other way on the other side crossed over and came *right up to me*. I took my headphones out when I saw him coming and thought 'oh this can't be good' and then he asks me very intensely,
"**DO YOU LIKE THE X-MAN WOLVERINE**?"
Took me by surprise but I answered "uh, yeah?" and he extended his hand to shake and said,
"**HI I'M WOLVERINE**."
This was a clean shaved blonde white dude, about 6'1" 150 pounds with busted up knuckles, and while he was presenting as friendly he was *not* trying to make a joke about his identity. He believed what he was saying. So I just rolled with it and said "Oh cool man, good to meet you. Yeah, I didn't recognize you without the costume." We talked for a second and then I did the I-have-to-go stutter walk thing and as I left I told him to watch out for Magneto.
I work in a hospital on the third floor. One evening I was washing up in the coffee room the sink is next to a window. It was getting dark, and I glanced out the window, and at exactly the same time a woman on the other side of the street glanced up at my window. I decided to wave, and as I raised my hand she simultaneously raised hers. We both had a little chuckle about it and went on with our lives. The whole thing took about 5 seconds but I still think about it.
Two that happened to my best friend, years ago.
1. He’s walking across campus and some guy walks up to him, holding an unwrapped Twinkie. He puts it close to my friend’s face and says, “Look at it! Look at it! YOU CAN SEE THE PRESERVATIVES!”
2. He’s in the men’s room in the physics building after an astronomy seminar. Some guy comes in and stands next to him at the urinal, staring at him, and says, “The Earth is flat. You know it is.”
And one that happened to me.
I’m in a restaurant in Washington DC, a thousand miles from home. It’s my first time in the District, I’m eating alone, so I decide to sit at the bar instead of taking up a table. A man my age sits down next to me, somehow we get to talking, and long story short, my mom was one of his mom’s bridesmaids and I’m named after his grandfather.
I was in a bakery in my small town USA, when the patissier was slack jaw staring at me. She told me she was from Germany and I looked like her daughter--even my glasses looked the same. She thought her daughter had come over from Germany to visit her. Sorry to disappoint and even sorrier she didn't have a pic to compare.
I was in the backseat of my friend’s car, one friend driving and one in the passenger seat. At an intersection a truck pulls up next to us and in the most Southern U.S. smoker accent he says out the window, “Hey kid! What do you know?” And my friend replied “I know a lot of things, what do you know?” And this crazy dude, without missing a beat, said “two plus five equals nine and crime is only illegal if you get caught, so drunk drive safely. Have a day!” And then sped off, timing the light perfectly somehow so that it switched to green as he finished the sentence. Felt like something out of a fever dream.
I was in a grocery store and I happened to be in the ice cream/frozen desserts aisle. While I was walking this random dude came up to me and offered to buy a gallon of pecans and cream(or something like that) icecream for me?? I said no, but he kept insisting and then talked about how much he loved the ice cream flavor. He apparently has eaten it everyday ever since he was 20(He said he was 70) and wants to one day form a religion based around the ice cream where every Wednesday they'd gather in a circle and eat a gallon each??
I was in a mostly empty locker room at a pool, a random older man walked up to me and asked, "Do you want a pickle?" I answered no, and he responded, "How about a nickel?" He proceeded to hand me a nickel. Very odd.
Guy was wearing the exact same outfit as me. Like same shoes, same colored jean, same sweatshirt and even same hat. Wouldn’t have been surprised if he had the same underwear even. But it was definitely the biggest glitch in the matrix moment I’ve ever had.
I've shared this story before, but one New Year's Eve, a friend of mine and I were standing outside of a liquor store. Both of us were underage, but another friend of ours was 21, so he was buying the alcohol for the night.
I was smoking a cigarette and out of the corner of my eye, I saw a man approaching. He looked homeless and I assumed he wanted a cigarette or some change. the first words out of his mouth were, "Happy New Year's gentlemen, how you doing?" We both said we were good and commented about how nice it was. Although it was mid-winter, it wasn't that cold that year in Chicago.
He laughed and said, "Yeah, me too. Y'all got any plans?" We told him we were going to meet up with some friends after our buddy came out of the store. He smiled and said, "Well, y'all be safe now. Me, I got myself a joint from the Mexicans at the car shop. I'm gonna go to my spot in the alley, smoke, put out my sign when I don't want nobody around, *Do not disturb the rat in the hole*. Then they know, this is the condominium and leave me alone."
My friend and I both looked at each other right after he said that. We were both writers and instantly recognized how beautifully weird what he had just said was. I asked if he wanted a cigarette, but he declined saying, "Nah, thanks."
Our friend came out of the store at that point and we told him we had to go. He shook our hands and the hand of our other friend and told us again to stay safe. As we were walking away, we heard him shout to us, "Happy New Year!"
He never asked for change or a cigarette and even declined my offer to have one. He just genuinely wanted to talk to us, which is rare in Chicago. He didn't want anything, but he did give me an anecdote and a phrase that has stuck with me for years; *Do not disturb the rat in the hole.*
For the purpose of this story, my name is "Buster."
I was visiting my brother who lived in a fairly big city at the time. He lived in a townhome amongst a bunch of other townhomes which all look identical. I got in late on a very delayed flight and made my way there on my own. My brother left the door unlocked for me so I could make my way in without waking up his family.
I am exhausted when I arrive and open the door and start heading up the stairs. The door at the top of the stairs opens and I figure it's my brother who I've woken up. I hear a voice shouting "Buster, get back! YOU STAY THERE!" he yells this a few times and turns the lights on. I'm starting at a man in his 70s in his underwear, terrified, and a little barking dog is trying to attack me. I am terribly confused as to who this person is, why he's in my brother's house and why he knows my name and is yelling at me.
After a few moments of exchanges it occurs to me that my brother doesn't have a dog and that he is yelling at the dog, named Buster, and that I've entered the wrong house. I try to stumble through and apology and just back away. My brother was pretty amused by it all but I felt horrible for scaring that guy.
A woman who was clearly not sound of mind in a macdonalds told me with deep and serious certainty that we are not to eat figs as they are the fruit of the devil.
I had watched a nature documentary the previous day and explained to her in great detail the anatomy of a fig (which is in fact, a flower) and the life cycle of wasps and how they use figs to their advantage.
She was very confused.
Then she turned around and went to find somebody else to hassle about not eating the devil's fruit.
in the dollar store by the hollywood theater in portland oregon, (its like 20 miles from my house) i was buying some soda when i saw a guy in a "vietnam veteran" jacket. i, being the patriotic m**********r that i am, said that i appreciated his service. then he said "that will be $100". i thought he was joking. he was not. i did not have $100, and i said to him as much. he said "well give me anything you have." i gave him five cents, as i only carry what i need to buy stuff on me, and that was the change. he just walked away without thanking me. it was weird as all hell.
Not sure if this is the strangest but fresh in my mind. Bought a Honda Odyssey for the family car. Had a guy stop me in a parking lot, maybe mid to late 50s, asked me if I wanted to join his odyssey club. He then proceeded to tell me it’s more of a cult and I can’t have any felonies but must be willing to commit one. He was clearly joking about that but dead serious about the club. I regret not finding out more but I was just so confused at the time.
Going into my hotel room. (This was a s**t hotel, I was low on money and just needed somewhere to stay for a couple of nights.)
On the phone with my husband, a guy walks up to me as I'm pulling out my key card. He gestures at himself and the door, in a 'can I come in' kind of way.
I say "No" and look at him, he keeps standing there, then he goes a few steps away. I stupidly think we're done and open the door and he moved forward to come in with me. I slam the door without entering and book it down the stairs to the front reception desk.
If I hadn't been on the phone, distracted and tired, I would never have let him get so close to me. What could have happened but didn't? Just so strange.
A few stick in my mind, but this one I have just never understood.
I'm at a busy downtown intersection, on a sunny Saturday, waiting for the light to cross. Guy beside me starts making small talk. Very chatty. We had quite a wait for the light for ... some reason I don't remember... so it was a bit of a chat.
He made some unusual remarks asking me about my ethnicity (somewhat accurate). Then it was him telling me his life story, out of the blue.
Ok, maybe he's hyper for some reason. I'd just moved to the city from a more rural area so I was polite and didn't elbow him away. Not sure if maybe I should have. His story about himself was just a bit memorable because it involved some globetrotting and a few other random details.
I thought nothing more about it after crossing the street and we went separate ways.
Then a couple of months later I'm in a downtown mall. Same guy walks up to me, out of nowhere, and starts chatting to me again. I interrupted him and said "Yeah, I remember meeting you before," and I repeated the life story ramble that he'd done earlier. At that point he does a disappearing act.
I have no clue to this day what that was about. Just odd.
A pleasant looking middle aged woman came up to me on a bus, sat beside me, and then told me in a whisper "my teeth are trying to kill me." And then sat out the ride in silence.
My family and I were traveling cross-country and stopped in this tiny rural coffee shop for lunch. The waitress came out to take our order, she took one look at me and said “Hey Kim, how’s your mom doing? I said “I’m sorry, I think you’re mistaking me for someone else, I don’t live around here and I’m not Kim.” She kept insisting that I was just joking around and teasing her. This went on for quite some time, until I had to convince her with my drivers license that I was not this person that she knew. She was blown away and said I could be a twin to this person that she knew, as I look exactly like Kim, talk like Kim, everything.
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