Talking to Strangers: Fraudulent Behavior


Photo credit/ Carolyn Warcup

Amanda Duncklee, Community Editor

Hey, strangers. Or friends. Acquaintances? I’m not sure who you are, but I guess that’s the point of the Internet: surfing through the web on a board of anonymity, crashing through Cyberspace, riding through the waves of websites, suffering through bad beach puns from college journalists.

In this column, I’ll record my experiences of prowling around town talking to strangers. I’ll conduct different experiments with new people whom I don’t know and write about it. The people whom I interact with won’t know they’re a part of my column, unless they recognize who they are here. Since the people mentioned in the column will not be identified, anyone and everyone in the world is fair game to include.

When you first started using the Internet, your parents probably told you to be cautious of talking to cyber strangers or you were old enough to have the common sense to avoid falling for Nigerian princes who promised you love and land for the small price of your entire life’s savings. But, how can you connect with someone new if you never branch out and talk to people you don’t know? After all, strangers are just friends (or scammers) you haven’t met yet.

Just as you never really know whom you’re speaking to online, talking to strangers in real life can be equally mysterious. How many times has someone come up to you, exuberant at your presence, but you haven’t the slightest clue who that person is? Are you honest and admit you don’t know the person, or, for the sake of decorum, do you go along with it? If you nodded along to the latter, you’re fake. Sorry.

Recently, I was in a town full of strangers. I visited SUNY Oswego, my best friend’s college that’s basically in Canada. I’m surprised I didn’t need to show my passport when I walked on the school’s campus that lies on the shore of Lake Ontario.

Since I didn’t have to be in class the Monday I visited, I thought I’d stay and have fun with some of the Oswegonians. In an informal experiment, I wanted to see how many of them would go along with the charade of knowing me if I pretended to know them. As mentioned, I’ve never been to this town before, so there was no chance of me actually knowing a soul aside from my friend.

At first, I greeted people as I walked by: a big smile and a, “Hey what’s up?” Some people ignored me (rude) but others said hi back. It was fun to see if people would respond, but not enough for me.

Sitting on a low, stone wall between classes, my friend and I picked possible friends out of the mass of students being far more honest and productive. The first one was a boy walking alone. I fell into step with him and began weaving my cloth of lies.

“Hey! Oh my gosh, long time no see,” I grinned. Blue jeans white shirt didn’t slow his pace or even say hello. He gave me a wicked side eye that still stings and said, “I don’t remember seeing you. Who are you?”

I told him all about how we met in line at the library café and that I thought it was so totally crazy that we had the same coffee order (a large cup of imagination with extra falsehoods, hold the honesty). He paused, trying to recollect a memory that never happened, and told me that I must have him mistaken for someone else.

“No, it was definitely you,” I said, my fabric of fibs unraveling by the second. “We talked for a while, I thought we had a real connection. I’m so embarrassed. Bye!”

I ran in the opposite direction back to my friend on the wall, both of us unable to contain our laughter.

After a few more minutes sitting on the stone, we relocated to the library. While there, I made my way to a girl sitting on a chair, plopped across from her and greeted her with a warm, “Hey! How are you?”

“Oh, hey! Katherine, right?” she asked.

I had two options here: back out and pretend that I had mistaken her for someone else; or, continue with my fraudulent behavior. I’ll give you a second to bet on what I went with. If it turns out you bet wrong, kindly close this article and take a course on literacy and reading context clues.

“Yep! That’s me,” I grinned, barely concealing my laughter. We talked about the club we’re both in and that I’m evidently in charge of, and she asked me when the next meeting was. I paused, but she gave a date and time.

“Yeah, that’s it! Check your e-mail for sure, but I think that’s it!” With that, I collected my friend on the chair next to me and we departed. I really, really hope she checked her e-mail.

This went on for the next hour or so. The rest of the people whom I greeted pretty much pretended to know me, though I did see confusion in their eyes. What I found most amusing is that these people, for the most part, seemed to know on some level that they have never seen me before, but only one person admitted it.

Basically, everyone lied. Sure, I was the main fraud, but nearly every person went along with the charade in order to preserve decorum. I’ll admit that I also pretend to know people I don’t really know for two reasons: I’m embarrassed when someone claims to know me and I’m so absent-minded that I forgot them, and I don’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings with the dreaded, “Sorry, who are you?”

Most people know the gut-sinking feeling of being forgotten, and unless you’re an emotional masochist, no one enjoys that pain; therefore, decent people will avoid inflicting that hurt on another. A little white lie to preserve someone’s pride is never a bad thing… right? At least that’s what I’ll keep telling myself when I reciprocate excited strangers’ greetings.

Okay, yeah, pretending to be someone else or lying about knowing them is obviously not the most truthful thing in the world. So, as penance for fooling some poor souls in upstate New York, I’ll do the opposite for my next piece: be honest.

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