You are walking down the street in a big city. A stranger approaches you with a big smile.

Vous êtes dans une grande ville. Vous marchez dans la rue et une personne inconnue vous aborde avec un grand sourire.

Ask: "Can I help you?"

Avoid eye contact, unless he is very cute.

He/she wants to sell me an idea/product


Hi! How's it going?

I look away and keep walking.

I look strangely at him/her and clutch my valuables.

I politely ask the person what he or she wants, while being wary of the situation, possible bad outcomes.

I smile back and say "hi."

I smile back.

I smile back.

I will ask them if I know them.

I would ask if there was some way I could help him or her, perhaps with directions or something similar.

I would avoid eye contact and quicken my pace.

I would be suspicious and probably try to avoid him/her.

I would return the smile and walk past the stranger.

I would run

I would say, "Hi, how can I help you?"

I would smile back and keep walking.

I would smile back and leave.

I would smile back and say hello.

I would smile back cautiously, but keep on walking.

Is this person trying to sell me something.

smile back

Smile back and slow down.

Smile back and try to figure out where they'd know me from.

smile back and wish him/her a good day.

Smile back but otherwise ignore them and keep walking.

That person is weird and I'd make a face.

walk in a path that would avoid coming near them.

"bonjour, on se connait?"

Bonjour, pourquoi ce sourire ? on s'est vu quelque part ? je ne te reconnais pas ...

Je demanderai à cette personne si elle a besoin d'un renseignement.

je lui fais un sourire; si elle me parait sympathique; puis continue mon chemin

je lui réponds chaleureusement vu qu'elle me sourit!

je lui réponds très gentiment tout en gardant la distance quand même

je lui retourne le sourire mais n'engage pas forcément la conversation.

Je lui souris aussi en me demandant ce qu'il veut.

je lui souris également et continue mon chemin

Je lui souris également et lui dit : bonjour!

je lui souris et lui dis bonjour.

je m'arrête avec un grand sourire pour l'écouter

Je me demande ce qu'il me veut. J'attends un peu voir ce qu'il me dit, si il est trop étrange je fais semblant de ne pas comprendre et je marche plus vite!

Je pense que cette personne a besoin d'un renseignement que je lui donnerai.

je réponds par un sourire et suivant l'apparence de la personne je poursuis mon chemin

Je salue la personne et lui demande ce qu'elle veut.

Je souris également car la gaieté est une qualité qui me plait à moins que je sente de la moquerie.

je souris également, même si je ne connais pas la personne, j'apprécie les personnes joviales.

je souris béatement

je souris moi aussi

Si cette personne a besoin d'un renseignement je lui donnerai, mais sinon je continuerai ma route.

Si il est mignon je lui rends le sourire, sinon je passe mon chemin.

tout dépend de l'aspect de cette personne, si elle me parait honête, pourquoi pas tisser des liens, ou dans le cas inverse je poursuis ma route

tout dépend de l'aspect de la personne. si elle me semble un peu suspecte, je poursuis ma route.


slt , j'ai remarqué que peu de personne se laissent abordés sans méfiance que se soit du coté ds américains et des français.De plus les américains ont une expression que je ne saisi pas,que veux dire:smile back?

oups ,aborder

Globalement, les francais comme les américains réagissent de la même manière: on rend poliment le sourire et soit on continue notre chemin, soit on propose notre aide. J'ai remarqué cependant qu'une personne avait mentionner "clutch my valuables"...

Cela m'étonne beaucoup car quand quelqu'un nous sourit, on ne pense pas à protéger nos objets de valeur en pensant qu'il est suspect.


     "Smile back" simply means that we'll also smile at the person.


   I know it is surprising that the Americans are suspicious of a stranger who smiles at them but I think it's just an issue of culture (or perhaps nature). I've been in the US for close to 3 years now and I've learnt pretty fast that people here are not very friendly. Therefore, a stranger smiling at you on the road is more of an exception than the norm which is why people act cautiously. Also, it apparently depends on where in the US you are located so perhaps if our school was located in another state, the responses will be different. Notice, however, that some of your colleagues also mentioned being cautios e.g "gardant la distance", "je marche plus vite!". The difference though is that the French are friendly but cautious while the Americans are just cautious.


salut,merci pour ta réponse ,tu disais que tu n'étais pas américaine comment se comportent les gens dans ton pays?

To expand on Naa's answer,  I think there's also a regional/cultural component to it as well. 

I grew up in New Jersey, and then moved to the South in ninth grade.  In New Jersey (which is often stereotyped as being unfriendly) people are more the "clutch your valuables" sort - if you see someone you don't know smiling at you, your first thought is either "What do you want from me?" or just "Why are you looking at me?". People see it almost as an intrusion on their privacy - thinking that others should just mind thier own business and keep to themselves.  I wouldn't say that peope there are rude; it's just not in their culture to greet people they don't know.

Southerners, on the other hand, are seen as having a more "smile back"-type culture.  If you walk past someone on the sidewalk,  it's polite (and almost expected) to smile and say "hi", even if you don't know them. 

Are there cultural differences between the different regions in France?  Are there stereotypes about people from the different regions?

I thought that the responses were remarkably similar, some of them almost direct translations of the other (the response regarding the individual being cute, for example). I find that interesting, given that regionally we tend to be more friendly in the southern US than in the north. If memory serves, the same trend tends to be true in France.


    I come from Ghana which is in West Africa. I would say that the response from Ghanaians would be very similar to that of the French. We would stop and smile back at the person and most likely start a conversation along the lines of "Hi, how are you doing...can I help you find something" etc. In fact, if the person who smiled at me were older than me, I'm obliged to at least stop and greet him. The only difference is that, I doubt that my fellow countrymen would get suspicious of the stranger at all!  The culture aims to foster a strong sense of community and to that extent people think of strangers as friends they are yet to meet as opposed to enemies. Unfortunantely, as you would expect, there are people who take advantage of the culture to pick on unsuspecting members of the community but such is life!

It's not that in general, americans are more fearful/skeptical of strangers. But Americans do think of strangers in relation to situations involving a dark alley, sketchy subway stop, and other things related to crime and danger which invokes fear.

On a sunny day when you're having a picnic on a crowded lawn, if a random person approached you smiling, i'm sure most americans will react to this positively because its a beautiful day, and there are lots of other people there so the probability of the stranger causing to harm is low.

Similarly, if the situation was "it's dark at night, and you're walking by yourself on a poorly lit street, and a stranger approached you smiling," i'm sure the french students would have been fearful and acting defensive. 

so the question to both american students and french students is what was the situation that came immediately to your mind when you read this prompt?

I noticed the Americans had some negative reactions without getting more information on the situation, whereas the French never had an actual negative reaction, they were just wary of the situation, but didn't try to "clutch their valuables", "run" or "make a face".

I think the best way to answer this question is by first asking if the person looks threatening or not, if it is a nice friendly smile, in which case I bet most people would smile back and wish a nice day, or if it's a somewhat sketchy or creepy smile, then I guess everybody would try to avoid eye contact just to be safe.

However, most people on both sides agreed that smiling back would be the besst option, which is a nice thing to know :)

Also, I heard once that in France people shouldn't smile without a reason, otherwise they are seen as dumb.  Is this true?  I think it makes sense since some of the French replied "pourquoi se sourire?" but I'd like someone to clear that out for me.

I found it interesting that several American students completely avoided the person by avoiding eye contact, walking away, avoiding crossing paths, running away, etc.  while even the most negative of French responses had a more balanced approach.  Rather than immediately avoiding the person, many chose to see if they looked suspicious, to see what they wanted or what their intentions were before taking any evasive action.

I wonder why several Americans interpreted the smiling stranger in a large city as a situation to be completely avoided.  I see situations like this frequently and I often see people ignore the smiling stranger.  Is this common in France?  Would you ever completely ignore someone on the street?  Is a smiling stranger an anomaly? 

For the Americans: did you interpret the situation as a person wanting money, someone selling drugs, someone with a survey?  Or what?

Il est vrai qu'en France il est très rare de sourire sans raison à un inconnu. De ce fait lorqu'une personne que l'on ne connait pas vient à nous sourire, on se demande alors sion connait cette personne, si quelque chose ne va pas chez nous ou autre... D'ou le fait que certaine personne continuerons leur chemin sans chercher à retourner ce sourire à la personne

Like most people have pointed out Americans have negative associations with people who appear to mean no harm, whereas the French do not want to avoid eye contact, run, or protect their stuff.

From what I have heard, most of Europe has a huge problem with pickpockets. If this is wrong please let me know. Whenever I have gone or heard about someone going to Europe, people always say beware of the pickpockets. So assuming what people claim is true, it surprises me that the French students are not worried about people taking their values. Instead it causes us to look at American society and realize that we tend to distrust mankind more than the French students. Then we must ask ourselves where did this behavior come from? The media? parents? peers? greed?

Oui en effet les pickpockets sont fréquents en France, mais seulement dans les grandes villes comme paris, rome ou barcelone. A brest nous ne sommes pas trop touchés pas les pickpockets

Selon moi je pense que les médias jouent un role important pour ce qui est de nous transmettre la peur de l'autre