Let’s face it, everyone associates dreadlocks with marijuana. Everyone except poor little oblivious me… I definitely had no idea I was setting myself up for a lifetime of being offered drugs, being ASKED for drugs, and of course, countless reactions of utter astonishment when I say I don’t smoke!
Instead of being annoyed at the world, and the fact that everyone makes assumptions before getting to know me, I used it to my advantage. People are predictable. In that sense, with a little bit of practice, dealing with strangers is trivially easy. With surprisingly little variation, they all ask the same questions and respond to my answers in the same way.
It’s a bit like learning a handful of common phrases in a foreign language. In France, I could meet a stranger in the street, or in a bar, I would tell them my story and it would take them 10 minutes to realise that I don’t really speak French! It’s not what you say, but the fluency with which you say it. The only other trick is to control the conversation and keep to topics you speak fluently.
As a teenager, my fluent conversation topic was my dreadlocks. They were interesting to me, and, most importantly they were interesting to others too. There’s no point talking fluently about something that no-one is interested to hear. This is where the magic of my dreadlocks came in. People would ASK ME! I was not the instigator of conversation. All I needed to do was RESPOND with my familiar ‘fluent’ phrases. The conversation would follow the same natural progression as it always did, and by the end I was popular, and above all, included. Once others saw me in a good light, it was much easier to try and navigate those other topics which I spoke with less fluency.
This was my version of ‘small talk’, and I used the ‘predictable’ time as an opportunity to take in my surroundings. Perhaps the biggest benefit of this strategy for me was that it gave me the confidence to approach new people and new situations. I may not be completely confident, but I am confident for the first few minutes, and that was enough to get me in there and try!