I ran around Saturday trying to get a good Mother’s Day present for Kay. She had hinted that she wanted a color printer for her birthday, but I got her something else, so I thought this would be a good time to make it up to her. I first stopped in Office Depot, but they didn’t have the printer I wanted. But they did have something else: nametags.
(Now I’ve told Kay about the nametag thing, and she has made it clear to me that “You’re welcome to wear a nametag… when I’m not with you.”)
So I bought a pack of nametags, and slapped one on right there at the counter.
My next stop was Best Buy, which had a better selection of printers, but still not the one I wanted. Another couple was in the printer aisle, puzzling over what they needed. I began talking with them, trying to be helpful. They were open to talking with me, probably because of my nametag. When I said, “I’m looking for a printer, too,” they said, “Oh, you don’t work here?” (Did they think that because of the nametag, or because I was trying to be helpful, and people don’t help strangers?)
This same couple bumped into me in a different aisle. The woman was saying, “Just ask him,” but the man walked past me. So the woman stopped and said, “I’m sorry, can we ask you a question? Will this paper work in this printer?” (Do men ever ask for help?)
I finally went to where I knew I would end up, the Apple Store, where I found everything I was looking for. Kay had also asked for a book to guide her through Mac OS X because it is quite different from 9, so I explored the book section. There a worker was talking with another customer, recommending a particular book for those who are visual learners. This caught my attention because Kay is very visual, so I jumped into the conversation. (Would I have been so bold without my nametag?)
Finally, I stopped in a grocery store on the way home to pick up flowers (I ended up getting a balloon instead). As I was examining the flowers, a little old lady next to me held up some potted flowers and asked me, “What do you think? Aren’t these nice?” I spent a little time looking at flowers with her. As she walked away, she turned back and whispered, “Do you think it’s all right if I buy myself Mother’s Day flowers?” and I whispered back, “It’s perfectly all right, you’ve earned it.”
It was neat to have people approach me — but the big surprise was that just by wearing a nametag, I felt fewer inhibitions about talking to people. So if I can cultivate this as an inward habit, there’s no reason I shouldn’t be able to boldly strike up conversations even without a nametag.
This was fun, and I think there’s more to learn, especially about internalizing it. I will continue the experiment.