When people are no longer strangers

‘Tracey! What are you doing here?’ I was asked with great emphasis put on the ‘you’ and ‘here’. There was surprise in her voice, more than I would expect from finding somebody like me in an op shop. Although, over the few times I had met the surprised speaker, I had come to think of her as somebody who spoke with a great deal of enthusiasm in even the more banal of encounters.

To be fair, I was standing on the serving side of the counter, which is not where one often expects to find people in their mid-20s on a weekday afternoon. However, I think most of the surprise was not so much a result of me serving in the op shop, as me being in the op shop as well as having been at other meetings and events. ‘Don’t worry, I am not stalking you.’ is a line I pull out in a joking voice rather often these days.

One of the pleasures that comes with doing a project on a suburb is that I often get to meet the same people in different contexts. It is almost like being back at uni, when you find out a friend is also taking that subject and you can pause for a brief chat after a tutorial. Perhaps it could also be a little bit like what people describe when they say you cannot get away with anything in a small country town, because everybody knows you.

When I first started getting involved in different groups there seemed to be so much to learn. How can I remember these names? How does this person like their coffee again? How fast should I work? How much should I talk? Where should I sit? Should I help with that or will I be getting in the way?

Of course these are not do-or-die questions, and in many cases I was joining new groups where the norms were still being established and names still being learnt. However, there was nothing quite like going along to a group and finding somebody I knew there who would find me a seat, prompt me whether or not to add milk to the cup of coffee I was preparing, and add a description of the person when somebody asked me to pass something over to somebody.

As you would hope for somebody studying social research, I really enjoy meeting people. Yet, I think that there is a real sense of comfort and enjoyment that comes with being supported by people you know.

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