A cab ride can be an awkward affair, if you let it.
The awkwardness compounds when you come from a background of small town living and a father who would rather walk the entirety of Rome than pay for a taxi back to the bus stop.
Often when I first started taking cabs, especially in the UK, I didn’t know what to do with myself, and the rides turned into impersonal stretches of tense silence.
This is fine, if silence is what you’re after. But I happen to also love hearing locals talk about their city. I love collecting stories and connecting with people. There’s nothing as fun as engaging an expert in conversation, and learning new insights about the place you’re visiting and the folk who live there.
So I started watching for the things that got cabbies talking.
1. Be Friendly
As soon as I select or flag down my cab, I test the waters while I get settled by smiling and saying hi. Once I’ve given my destination, I ask how my driver’s day has been or make some remark about the weather. (Weather is always a popular subject in the UK.)
Normally I find that cabbies are happy to talk if you give the right cues, but they wait to gauge what you’re after because they don’t want to be rude — especially the British ones. When you open the door with an extroverted attitude (even if you are deeply introverted, like me), they warm right up to you.
This does require an acquaintance-level of information exchange. Cabbies usually like to find out where you’re from and the general reason you’re traveling. Though you should of course use common sense caution, by sharing a bit about yourself you’ll often gain a lot.
For instance, when my sister and I were traveling in Turkey we exchanged news with our driver. When he found out my sister had lived in some of the places his family had worked, he told us about Turkey’s foreign relations and how it influenced the unrest in Istanbul. We returned to the city with far more understanding of the country we were in, all from a local man’s perspective.
2. Express Interest in the Area
After the necessary exchange of pleasantries, to turn your cabby into a local guide you’ll want to admire the surroundings. If you’ve never been in this part of the world or country before, be sure to let him know!
When a friend and I caught a cab on our way to Conwy, Wales, we told the driver we’d never been there before. He grinned and said, “Well, I’m going to take you my favorite way. Get ready for one of the most beautiful sights in all of the United Kingdom!” When we crested the hill before the medieval city and saw Conwy Castle on the other side of the river, we had to agree with him that it was amazing.
Another time, a group of friends and I were on our way to the Scottish Highlands via Glasgow. We told the cabby that we were only going from the airport to the train station, though we’d wanted to spend more time in the city. He practically hit the brakes and exclaimed, “You’ve never been before?!”
What he did next leads nicely into tip #3…