City Woman goes on a flirting safariBy Leigh Mencarini
July 02, 2010
Chatting up a chap isn’t as easy as you’d think. But a few handy tips from a dating doctor and Leigh Mencarini is soon on the prowl.
She tries a safari with a difference...
“Well, it’s been great chatting to you... and I’d like to do it again sometime... so do you think I could have your number?”
That’s it, apparently. That’s all you need to do for a phone number. It’s even easy to remember – CIA. Compliment. Initiate. Ask.
Chatting someone up has never been so simple.
Except it’s not. Well not for me, anyway. Which is why the prospect of trying out a ‘flirting safari’ in Reading seemed rather daunting.
Looking for love? Log on to www.getreading.co.uk/dating
I was invited along by dating doctor Peter Spalton, who gives his expert advice on body language and personal communication to hopeful singletons so they can learn the art of talking to strangers.
It’s called a safari because it’s all about learning to navigate your surroundings and spotting your target – not being predatory.
It’s about approaching strangers in a non-intimidating, friendly way, starting and keeping a new conversation going.
I met Peter prior to the excursion at the Starbucks off Queen Victoria Street, where he told me he’d been helping people network within their personal lives for around 20 years.
For the last six Peter, who lives in Worcester, has been taking singles on safari in London, Bristol, Oxford, Sheffield, Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham... and Reading.
Now, I didn’t think I’d find talking to the public difficult, given the job I do. But as Peter pointed out, approaching someone without my ‘journalist’ hat on would be an entirely different ball game.
“You find some people can be quite extrovert – but only with their friends, so when the opposite sex is involved they can get quite scared and intimidated,” he says.
“Most find they can do it once they’ve spoken to the first person.”
We met the rest of the group outside John Lewis in Broad Street; four women and one brave chap, a mix of ages between late 20s to mid-40s. All of us admit to being a little nervous, but open minded.
Peter briefs us on a few pointers before we’re unleashed on the public – in shops as opposed to on the street, as that’s a trickier territory. Plus you can assume which kind of people will be found in certain shops.
For instance, men tend to visit outdoor shops and cycle shops. They like ski wear and gadgets – so they can always be found in PC World.
“Approach and say ‘nice screen, isn’t it?’,” Peter tells us, “or play the damsel in distress card; ‘I don’t know anything about HD or Blu-Ray’.”
Women, on the other hand, can always be found in shoes or clothes shops – but these are sacred places where they do not want to be approached by men.
However, cosmetic shops such as Lush are good, as well as cards and craft shops, because we girls like buying gift wrap, books and diaries.
“Do not buy anything, try not to pick anything up; not a product or a book,” Peter tells us.
“When in bookshop don’t open the book – it won’t tell you what to say!
“Treat everybody as friends. It’s not like being in a nightclub – there’s no agenda.”
The safari took in the perfume counter at John Lewis, Waterstone’s in Broad Street and The Oracle, WH Smith, PC World and HMV.
The bookshops were my biggest worry. Who wants to be interrupted?
“The best time to ask is as they pull the book down – and don’t worry if they have their iPod in. If they take the earphones out it means they’ve responded positively,” Peter reassures me.
“You will find that after the first two seconds you will bottle up. At this stage it’s almost as if you should say the first thing that comes into your head.”
That’s not always a good thing – but I’ll give it a go. I notice a lone male perusing Jeremy Clarkson’s literary offering and move in.
“Ah... Clarkson,” (smooth) “so are you a fan of Top Gear?”
He looks puzzled and smiles politely. I move on.
Not a dreadful start – he didn’t run off. Plain sailing from here?
“It takes courage but the thing is, you’ve got nothing to lose,” Peter says. “You’re not going to meet these people again.”
He told us to bear in mind that some men will feel uncomfortable being approached – especially if the wife or girlfriend is in the shop.
Women, however, won’t do this – they’ll carry on chatting even if their partner is nearby. But once spotted by the other half he’ll make sure you get the hint.
The resounding message is to look out for the other person’s reaction. It will tell you if you’re wasting your time and can also tell you how to catch their interest.
“The difficult thing is not starting the conversation, it’s keeping it going. So you need to use free information – the things they say, or what they have in their hands.
“For instance, if they’ve got dog or cat food they probably have pets. And you know you’re getting on well if they show you pictures!”
Peter mentors throughout the process. He watches while we make our approach, offers tips on how to do things differently next time and offers praise.
First impressions are paramount – Peter says a 1971 study in the US showed likeability is 55 per cent based on how you look, 38 per cent on how you sound and just seven per cent is based on what you say.
“So make a big movement – turn towards them and speak,” he says. “Smile, and if they smile back then say hello.”
Some of the other ladies were having a fair bit of success – one ended up nattering to a guy for an impressive 10 minutes.
Sadly she wasn’t brave enough to ask for his number and wondered if it would be OK to ask for theirs?
Absolutely not, according to Peter.
“By offering your number you lose control,” he says. “You’ll be waiting for him to ring you.”
By his time I’d had a few reasonable encounters but I wouldn’t call them successful. Until PC World.
A young dark-haired fellow appears to be browsing solo around the laptops. I make it my business to catch his eye and ask him how much he knows about Windows 7?
Not very much, he admits. (In which case we already have something in common! Hoorah!)
After a slow start we begin to chat, but I bail out before I feel my cheeks start to blush.
Perhaps it was a subtle chemistry – but this was only ever meant to be for research purposes, after all.
After the safari, we discussed our success rates at the Slug and Lettuce at The Oracle’s Riverside.
“It’s all so logical and makes perfect sense but it’s just the actual doing it that’s difficult,” one 40-something said.
“I think it’s much easier when you’ve got a drink inside you – not completely sloshed, though.”
“Doing it as a group, I did laugh more,” a 30ish woman added.
“I suppose it’s something you’ve got to get in the habit of doing.”
In these days of social media and electronic communication, there’s never a better time to refresh your face-to-face conversational ability.
The safari proved you can do this anywhere – at the shop counter, getting on the bus – a simple good morning could go a long way.
And you never know who might smile back.
- For the dates of Peter’s next flirting safaris, visit www.thedatingdoctor.co.uk
- Looking for love? Log on to www.getreading.co.uk/dating