Penelope Rance

My UX research & design ramblings

Book Review - When Strangers Meet

It is probably a bit of an odd time to read When Strangers Meet by Kio Stark, when we are all in lockdown and not supposed to leave our homes, but it was actually a really interesting and relevant read.

When Kio talks about strangers meeting, she is talking about anything from a nod of the head right through to chatting on a street corner or even interrupting someone else’s conversation when you are sat in a cafe.

front cover of book, showing illistrations of groups of people talking
When Strangers Meet by Kio Stark

This is interesting to me from a Researchers point of view, how can I make contact with people if I need to do research in one of our branches and I do not have pre-recruited participants? But it is also interesting from a personal point of view; why do some people say 'hi' as I pass them and others do not?

She starts by talking about who a stranger is - is it just someone who’s name you do not know or someone you have never seen/met before?

And the mechanics of interactions - how you get into and out of an interaction with someone.

In the western white world it seems most interactions start with eye contact. If your eye contact is rejected it is an easy way to see that person does not want to interact with you, without causing too much offence. We can then build from there, whether that is just to say ‘Good morning’, which is what I am doing a lot now when taking the dog for a walk, or getting into a proper conversation.

"Greetings alone are a meaningful passing acknowledgment that we are all in this together - exchanging a greeting unexpectedly can change the tenor of your day."

Kio Stark

Maybe this is why nearly everyone I pass these days acknowledges me in some way even while two metres apart. And she goes on to explain why I find it so upsetting when I am ignored.

Kio actually gives some ‘expeditions’ at the end of the book to try various methods out, although I might have to wait until lockdown is over before trying them out.

I really enjoyed this quick read, and since finishing have found myself observing all sorts of behaviour that has always been there, but I had not been fully aware of or understood.

Anyone who is thinking about doing ethnographic research would benefit from reading this first, it will definitely help to make your interactions better.

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