May 20, 2010

How to Talk to Strangers to Increase Celiac Disease Awareness

One of the best ways to increase celiac disease awareness is simply by talking to other people. However, for some people, having a conversation with a stranger is not simple. First, we need to let go of what we were taught as children – do not talk to strangers. Furthermore, we need to explain to our children who will see us talking to strangers why it is okay for an adult to do so. I forgot to do this and my daughter said, “Mommy, you shouldn’t talk to strangers!” She also said, “Mommy, mind your own business. You are being rude!” (Okay, maybe I shouldn’t have gotten up to talk to someone at Bonefish when I heard him ordering off the gluten-free menu.)

Next, free yourself from worrying about how others will perceive you. Yes, people might think you are silly to be so excited about a new gluten-free product being carried in a store or they might not be interested in what you have to say, but who cares. Finally, keep the following tips in mind as you engage in conversations with strangers. Whether you are making small talk at a party or in the grocery store, remember you can possibly change a person’s life.

1. Keep it positive. The goal is to motivate someone to learn more about celiac disease, be tested, and for them to share it with others. This is not the time to complain about gluten-free life. Here are some options for what to say.
-“The gluten-free brownie mix from Betty Crocker is great, and people with celiac disease are very happy that soon gluten-free Bisquick will be in stores.”
-“I am excited to try the new gluten-free menu at the Melting Pot.”
-“My health is so much better after finally being diagnosed with celiac disease.
-When the cashier asks, “Did you find everything you were looking for today?”, you could say the following. “Yes, since I have to eat gluten-free, I am always happy when this bread is in stock.
2. Hang out in the over-the-counter medicine aisle. Don’t ask people why they are buying medicine, but you could say something like “Since I found out I have celiac disease and have been eating totally gluten-free, my migraines are gone.
3. Talk to strangers when standing in a line or in a waiting room. Not only will the person who you are talking to learn about celiac disease, but other people will overhear. This is easiest at the grocery store where you can start by talking about an item in your cart.
4. Provide a source for getting more information. If they seem interested, give them your email or refer them to a blog or website, like
5. Be appreciative. Thank customer service departments for carrying a certain product or speak to the manager about a great waiter. They interact with many people in a day, but may not understand about celiac disease.
6. Talk to others in the gluten-free section. Don’t assume because someone is debating about buying a gluten-free product that he or she eats gluten-free or is informed about celiac. I always ask, “Do you or a family member eat gluten-free?” If the response is yes, then I proceed to find out if the person is newly diagnosed and needs any assistance. Often, they aren’t gluten-free and are just trying a product.
7. Use a friendly and humorous tone when appropriate. This may be a challenge for some people, and the tone is the key to not sounding rude and making your statement memorable. When the waiter brings me a fortune cookie at P.F. Chang’s, I say, “Fortune cookies aren’t gluten-free (chuckle), and I do tip higher when I’m not given one.”


gfe--gluten free easily said...

Great post, Sandra! I do this all the time. I figure just a few words could greatly impact someone's life. Like you said, the key is to open a dialogue and see where it goes. It's wonderful when you see that you are helping someone, that the conversation was meant to be, etc.

My son used to get annoyed with me, but now he does the same thing since he's been gluten free. ;-)


Ellen said...

My brother-in-law does service work, and he overheard a woman and her mother talking about a gluten-free product... he's not got Celiac Disease, but he asked them about it, and they do.

So now I have two more friends I've never met. We are going to try to get a buying co-op together, so we can take advantage of bulk discounts.

Speaking up is a wonderful thing.

Dia said...

This is a great post! I try to remember to keep my responses upbeat (can get a bit sarcastic!) I had a great chat with a friend who has a grill at our weekend market - he has been working on his own health. I got his grilled chicken salad (an option on his menu - also had sandwiches) & he checked the ingredients on the dressing for me - as you say, so many opportunities to educate & help others consider what gluten may be doing to their health!