Solo Travel Tip: How To Exchange *Intro-Deets* Without Being A Jerk-Creep
When you travel solo, you are always meeting new people. That's the beauty of solo travel: you end up having so many random conversations with so many random people – in restaurants, bars, parks, stores and the streets -- that you're bound to make some friends sooner or later.
But trying to get to know a total stranger can be kind of awkward. We've all been lucky recipients of generic pick-up lines that are too cheesy (and desperate) to make further conversation feasible. I've also found that there is a right and a wrong way to ask for someone's name and contact info.
Next to the dreaded “where are you from” question (that many multicultural individuals / nomads struggle with answering), being asked “What's your name?” out of nowhere can feel pretty intrusive. Like, what do you want with my name, bro?
In my experience, the most uncomfortable stranger introductions come from men, as men have been socialized to be "assertive go-getters" who ignore social cues to get what they want. But, in real life, leading with this question is a very unnatural (and at times threatening) way to start a conversation. First of all, please think twice before inviting yourself into a stranger's personal space -- but, if you're going to do that, at least come up with some charming smalltalk / friendly icebreakers that actually make someone in the mood for interacting.
Here's a common scenario in my life: I'm eating at a cafe, minding my own business, and then I'll hear: "And your name is??" I'll turn my head and there will be a strange man towering over my seated self as he rather aggressively blurts out those words. Am I under arrest, officer? Do I need a lawyer before we proceed with this interrogation?
I tell ya, this method of address doesn't just not work on me – it puts me on the suspicious offensive. Makes me want to throw a few "names" at such gentlemen that will send 'em back to the writing desk to come up with better material.
Lecherous "romeos" aside, developing a friendly, elegant and appropriate introduction style is worth considering for everyone -- but especially for travelers, as we interface with many people with the added pressures of cultural differences and language barriers. Having blundered through enough less-than-graceful name exchanges, I had to stop and think about getting it right.
Let's assume you're already engaged in a conversation and the questions of names is bound to come up sooner or later. “So, what's your name?” will do in some situations but not others. Some cultures are extra polite -- and some social situations are extra nuanced -- so you don't always want to settle for the most informal way to go as you don't want to appear disrespectful.
There is also sometimes an issue of social class differences that can arise in travel scenarios. As a traveler, I interact with a ton of service staff -- and, even though I'm by no stretch of imagination financially well-off, since I travel to "budget destinations", I find myself in the "rich foreigner" role quite a bit. So, I have to mindfully make sure I'm not coming across as an entitled asshole. There's a certain "Karen"-y way to ask for service people's names that can sound like a *rich jerk move*, even if you didn't mean it that way.
Here's a solution – one that has served me very well across all social realms and travel situations since I started practicing it. It's very simple. Before I ask for a person's name, I tell them mine. My first name, that is, none of that Dr. Malyk crap! Like: “Oh, so, by the way, I'm Maria. What's your name?” – with a smile and an outstretched hand for a shake (or, in the pandemic times: a fist bump or a hands-together-head-bowing motion or whatever the local custom for socially-distanced greeting happens to be).
I feel that this approach to name exchange is less invasive because you volunteer the private information you are asking this person to reveal first.This way, you are not "mining" someone for personal data out of the blue or demanding to know someone's name because you feel entitled to knowing it. Class-wise, it evens out the playing field with hotel / restaurant / cafe / bar / tour staff as well as street vendors and shop keepers because everyone gets on a first-name basis (and if an elder introduces themselves as formal title and last name -- that's an additional opportunity to show them respect).
The same goes for phone numbers / social media handles. Instead of asking for someone's deets -- offer up your own -- that way they can get in touch if they want to with zero pressure. I appreciate it so much when people do it but, unfortunately, it's very rare. The majority of men I run across couldn't care less about their targets' comfort levels -- they don't back off so easy because contact info is a trophy to them -- and they like to win. Take that pushiness for what it is: predatory behavior. As such, don't cave to this kind of pressure when it happens to you -- and make sure not to be that person when the tables are turned.
From a psychological perspective, the strategy of leading with your own name / contact info taps into the “reciprocity rule”, whereby people are more likely to be forthcoming with something of their own, since you provided something of your own in equal measure first and without being asked. And it generally shows a "lack of something to hide" on your own end. If this openness to communication is genuine (as well it should be!), it can be disarming enough to stir the hearts of some pretty socially-guarded people.
The bottom line is: avoid sounding like you expect strangers to give up their personal data / story before they know anything about you. It's bad form and a turn-off for potential friends / associates / lovers. It's basically the Golden Rule for introductions: don't creep unto others if you don't want others creeping unto you. Put yourself "out there" for others before you ask others to put themselves "out there" for you -- and watch people respond positively instead of reaching for the pepper spray.
Good luck with your future introductions: may they be un-awkward and result in some amazing connections!