Beautiful interruptions, unexpected connections and shoes as a secret weapon

Connect with a stranger

As I settled into my seat on the London-bound Eurostar at the Gare du Nord early last year, I was feeling sad and happy in equal measure.

I was leaving Paris after three wonderful months, and would miss it terribly. But at the same time, I was returning to friends and family, and to my old familiar routine back in England.

I’d almost abandoned my madcap idea to temporarily decamp to the City of Lights, when I had a chance encounter online that changed everything.

One thing led to another, and before I knew it, I was installed in Montmartre in a spacious des res, whose owner had fled south to the sun to escape the European winter. 

And so I spent three months meeting new people, following new routines, and exploring new possibilities. From the stranger I spoke to on the outbound Eurostar journey to the chap I bumped into in the boulangerie, from the South American translator to the reiki healer, my life had been full of chance encounters and mind-broadening experiences. 

Stranger danger

So when a woman came trundling down the aisle sighing heavily under the weight of her many bags, I somehow knew she was destined to sit next to me.

And so she did, after wondering (incorrectly) if I’d taken her window seat. She was clearly in a foul mood, muttering to herself as the train pulled out of the station.

Two-and-a-quarter hours of this, I thought. And then I decided to act.

“Vous aimez les mots croisés?” I asked her, pointing to her crossword book. “Ça m’a l’air vachement compliqué, celui-là!” And indeed the puzzle did look fiendishly complicated, with few black squares and mind-bendingly cryptic clues.

That was enough to get her to smile and start a conversation.

Two-and-a-quarter hours later, we pulled into St Pancras in London, still talking. We’d ranged across a wide variety of subjects, from teaching to city living, from happiness to startups.

As we entered the arrivals hall, she hugged her waiting daughter (an expat startup owner) and introduced her to me. Before leaving, she gave me her card and invited me to her farm in France.

And the moral of the story? Talk to strangers. Connect. Find a point of interest and use it as a springboard for a conversation. 

Not just on trains, but on your website. Not just in boulangeries, but in your e-books. Not just in alternative bookstores over the reiki titles, but in your newsletter.

Which brings me around to a TED talk I watched last week.

Kio Stark’s Why you should talk to strangers transported me back to my Paris experience, and reminded me that it doesn’t end when you return home. 

She’s not talking about marketing, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t apply. She says we should use our senses instead of fears, perceptions instead of categories, and start thinking of people as individuals. She talks about ‘beautiful interruptions’ and ‘unexpected connections’, which is something we all hope our marketing efforts will do. 

You’ll find out why it’s easier to smile in Asia than Denmark, and why shoes (or their virtual equivalent) may very well be the secret weapon you’re looking for, hot on the heels of dogs and babies.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

[If you’re reading this in an email, click here to see the talk on]