This article considers how strangers who use public transportation initiate conversations and how disruptions of the transportation system affect interactions among strangers. How conversations are initiated has rarely been discussed in the literature because the majority of research takes the initiation of talk for granted. Building on Goffman, the article tests two hypotheses that explain how strangers initiate conversations. The first hypothesis states that travelers rely on interactional rituals if they have to talk with others because of a rule against opening talk with strangers, a rule that can be relaxed if travelers are faced with disruptive events. The second hypothesis states that a conversation can be initiated without introductory remarks if a traveler’s focus of attention is discernible to another traveler, irrespective of the circumstances travelers find themselves in. I argue that the latter hypothesis better explains how strangers initiate conversations and discuss how this finding may be generalized.
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