Today I started the conversation like I’ve started many others, talking about bikes on the train. This seems to be a good conversation starter because it’s something the commuter rail passengers see and deal with every day.
Anyway, I was a bit worried when I first sat down because I realized that everyone either had headphones on or was napping. Mornings are hard because everyone (myself included) is still half asleep and grossly undercaffienated. There were two bikes at the front of our train car that fell over when the train came to the first stop. They fell onto some guy’s leg, no injuries this time but I see this happen a few days/week. I turned around to the guy behind me (who I recognized as a fellow commuter but have never spoken to) and mentioned how it seems that every day there are a few bikes that fall over. And the conversation was started…
He had a strong accent but was well spoken and deliberate with his word choice. I asked where he was from (Sweden) and what he did for a living (computer scientist). My next question to strangers is usually something about why they take public transit since we both have that in common, plus I’m just genuinely interested in why people choose to commute via train/bus instead of drive themselves. He told me how he moved here 6 months ago from Sweden to work for a U.S. software company. He had colleagues and students who have lived/worked/and been educated in Boston. Basically he heard such great things about it he started looking for a job here. He had also heard that the city had a very European style and that appealed to him more-so than other jobs he looked at in the states.
He deliberately moved here and got an apartment (“flat” as he called it) downtown so that he could walk or take the train everywhere and avoid having a car. He looked in Cambridge and other surrounding areas but decided the commute was too long by train and he would likely need a car. So his motivation was similar to mine, sell your car, move downtown, and rely 100% on public transit (and actually save money doing it). It works. However, he agreed with me that it takes a certain measure of patience to take public transit every day (schedules are often delayed so you can’t be in a hurry, conductors are usually unfriendly so don’t expect them to help you, etc). We both felt that it was vastly better than negotiating a clogged highway with a bunch of irritated Massachussetts drivers for an hour or more every day.
He mentioned that his hours are much better than people he has met at other software companies. He generally only works 40 hours/week, gets good pay/benefits, while his friends are working nights and sometimes weekends.
Mr Sweden seems like a nice enough guy and he relies on public transit 100% so I’m glad we know each other at least enough to say hey now. Just had to break the ice.
I think the key to chatting with random people on the train is all in how you start the conversation. It has to be something you both have in common. Talking about the weather is for old people, nobody cares, so I don’t use that. But things like bikes, rowdy drunk passengers, a-hole conductors, and delayed trains can be a great segway for making friends on the train. Also, talking about the Red Sox, Patriots, Bruins, or Celtics is a sure win. Try it out sometime, it’s easier than you’d think.