Is there a single word for a brief interaction with a stranger, for example, when someone offers you their seat on the bus or holds the elevator for you?

Edit: The interaction needn't necessarily be polite or courteous. It might even just be somebody tripping over their own two feet and bumping up against you at the bar.


encounter (noun):

an unexpected or casual meeting with someone or something

'When you go to work, or visit a park, it is possible that you will have a range of unexpected encounters, however fleeting or seemingly inconsequential.'

Other suggestions include:

meeting (noun):

(Defn. 2) a situation when two or people meet, by chance or arrangement

'While there, I've met people I already knew by chance and had chance meetings with new people.'

You would probably need to refer to 'chance meetings', or 'meeting by chance'.

Source: ODO

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    +1 Hi Julie, thanks for the answer. This really seems like the perfect word, but I can't use it because here in India, it usually connotes police killings. Yes, really. Here's a link to the Wikipedia page. Would you perhaps be able to suggest another word? – Tragicomic Aug 6 '15 at 10:34
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    @Tragicomic my goodness, thanks for pointing that out to me. I will have another think for you:) – Julie Carter Aug 6 '15 at 10:39
  • Encounter implies running up against something that presents a hardship, difficulty, or obstacle. There has, however, been a progressive weakening of this sense. – Misti Aug 6 '15 at 12:36
  • @Mysti Often such brief encounters with strangers cause interruptions in our thoughts or actions. In this way, you might say an encounter is still "running up against... an obstacle". – talrnu Aug 6 '15 at 15:05
  • I think encounter is reasonable. Encounters do not need to be at an extreme such as hardship, etc. The first word that came to my mind though was exchange, but I like encounter better here because it's more stand-alone, where exchange almost screams for more description. – mah Aug 6 '15 at 15:51

Another good word would be "have a brush with":

have a brush with something

to have a brief contact with something; to have an experience with something. (Especially with the law. Sometimes a close brush.) Ann had a close brush with the law. She was nearly arrested for speeding. When I was younger, I hada brush with scarlet fever, but I got over it.

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    Also, had a run in with. But both of these are phrases and generally negative. – Mazura Aug 6 '15 at 19:15
  • +1 Thanks for this answer. As you say, "have a brush with" means to have a brief contact with something, although not usually another person. – Tragicomic Aug 9 '15 at 0:08

When people say (informally) that they run into each other or come together, the event is strictly a convergence.

Convergence (?), Convergency (?) , n. [Cf. F. convergence.] 1. The condition or quality of converging; tendency to one point; the occurrence of two or more things coming together.

[1913 Webster]

To play up the seemingly predestined aspects of these interactions, you can use happenstance. You can also use coincidence.

From WordNet 3.0:

n 1: an event that might have been arranged although it was really accidental [syn: {coincidence}, {happenstance}]

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    Also, thanks for the "encounter" information. Interesting stuff. – senyb Aug 6 '15 at 12:32
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    +1 I like "convergence" though it isn't exactly what I was looking for. Thank you. About "encounter," yes, it's interesting how words take on a life of their own travelling around the world. – Tragicomic Aug 6 '15 at 14:12

While not a single word, perhaps the phrase fleeting acquaintance might suit. Collins defines acquaintance as

knowledge of a person or thing, esp when slight

As @JulieCarter suggests in her answer, fleeting is often used to refer to such meetings. Collins defines this as

passing swiftly; not lasting

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you could use a descriptive word such as 'politeness' if you are talking about the action

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