Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," taking you back to your earliest childhood when your mama taught you never EVER to talk to strangers!
This is sound advice for tots. I do not dispute it. For tots.
However, where I grew up, you talk to strangers once you've become an adult. Waiting in line at the grocery store? You talk to the person in front of you. Doctor's office running a little slow? You complain to the other folks sneezing over the magazines. Heck, you could practically make a new bosom buddy at the bus stop in bad weather, if the transit was running behind.
I took this habit of talking to strangers with me to Detroit, where it met with success far and wide.
Here in New Jersey, the only place you can talk to strangers is in the thrift store. Everyone is nice there. Even the people who can't speak English smile at you. What a welcome relief from the rest of this sorry state!
This afternoon I was out doing errands, and the closest grocery store was the huge, expensive, yuppie paradise known as Wegman's. If there's no Wegman's where you live, count on it. There will be one soon.
Wegman's is an enormous store, but when you push past the aisles of greeting cards, "organic" food (don't believe it), expensive tableware and kitchen goods that no one can afford, bins of old-timey candy, flower shop, and sample tasting tables, you don't find many more groceries than you do in any other store.
Thus I found myself in the grocery section looking for an elusive item: Shake and Bake.
If I hadn't pegged myself as a hillbilly before, you surely know it now. Shake and Bake has been a staple in the kitchens of three generations of Johnsons. But I actually wasn't looking for Shake and Bake. My local Acme stocks a chicken coating from the deep South somewhere that is dee-licious. I figured if I could locate the Shake and Bake in the Mammoth Cave that is Wegman's, I'd also find the deep South coating mix.
I couldn't find the Shake and Bake.
I asked a guy stocking the shelves with McCormick spices. He said he didn't work there and had no idea where it could be.
So I picked a likely aisle, and in that aisle was another customer with a cart half-filled with groceries. She was younger than me, and the little "New Jersey Yuppie" warning bell did go off, but I figured, what the heck. She's clearly been up and down these aisles, she might have seen the Shake and Bake.
In my nicest, down-home way, I said, "Excuse me, have you seen the Shake and Bake?"
She looked at me as if I had said, "Excuse me, can I rip your lungs out, kick them across the floor, and leave them for the rats to devour?"
Then she replied, "No. And I haven't been looking for it either." On she walked, gently stroking her traumatized organic whole grain bagel chips.
Jeez. What did I say? She couldn't have thought I mistook her for an employee. She had a cart, and she wasn't wearing a chirpy Wegman's polo shirt.
Call it my Appalachian upbringing if you like, but I don't have a problem with strangers asking me for directions, or for assistance, or whether or not a jacket makes them look fat (thrift store). I even give change to panhandlers! What harm is done? Maybe I can't pay someone's bill for that pesky emergency room visit, but I can at least have a little courtesy.
There are certain stereotypes that cling to places. New Jersey is known for having belligerent, unfriendly residents. Just today I'm not going to disabuse anyone of that notion. If you're in a store, looking for Shake and Bake, find the guy with the chirpy polo shirt. Whatever you do, don't talk to a stranger. Pretend you're three years old again and act accordingly.