My life in Montreal is full of what my friends call “everywhere people,” strangers whom I see on a regular basis, walking down the street, sitting in a café, on the metro, in line for a movie. I don’t know them and I have no reason to talk to them, but they give me a sort of grounding in my daily life. In the 1970s, the social psyschologist Stanley Milgram termed these people “familiar strangers,” and he theorized that they are a natural aspect of urban life. In big, crowded cities, which can sometimes seem so alienating, they help to humanize and familiarize the cityscape.
For the most part, familiar strangers are found in your own neighbourhood, on public transit or somewhere that you frequent, like a café. What is odd and particularly surprising is when you visit another city for the second, third or fourth time and realize that, oddly enough, you have everywhere people there, too. I find myself in Vancouver about once a year and it is not unusual for me to spot, on the street or on the bus, sometime I recognize from an encounter during previous visits. This happened to me in March, too, when I spent a month in Hong Kong, my second trip to the city after first visiting in 2005. Much to my astonishment, I ended up crossing paths with a bicycle delivery man I had photographed three years earlier — and I even managed to snap another picture of him.
I arrive in Hong Kong, this time on a more permanent basis, one week from tomorrow. Will I see my everywhere man again?
Tags: Hong Kong, Montreal, Personal History, Streetlife