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.

Do I know you?

I smile back.

I will smile back

I would avoid making eye contact and swiftly walk away.

I would respond with a smile.

I would say 'hello' and smile back.

I would smile back!

I would smile, nod, and say "hello"

i would think "Stranger. Smile and move on."

I would walk past them if I could, and if not interact with them as minimally as possible until I can get away from them.

I'd say, "Hi," and smile back.

I'll smile back to him/her.

I'll smile back, and say "hi".

If I m in Europe, i'll listen what the stranger wants. The rest depends on at it is.

pretend to be really busy with my phone and then walk the other way


Smile back and keep walking.

smile back and say hi

Smile back then probably look at the ground.

Smile back!

Smile back, and continue walking. I don't want to seem antagonistic, but at the same time he is a stranger.

smile back.

This is strange. Do I know person or not?

Try to be polite and helpful, but get out of the situation as soon as possible if they make me feel uncomfortable.

You smile back, to show that you too are approachable. He most likely wants to ask a question.

Bonjour, vous cherchez quelque chose ?

Cela dépend si je suis disponible ! Je réponds sinon, puisque c'est rare !

j'écoute ce qu'il a à me dire

je discute avec elle, tout en essayant de juger ses intentions.

je l'écoute et lui réponds.

Je lui dis bonjour et demande ce qu'il veut

Je lui dis bonjour et j'écoute.

je lui dis bonjour et passe mon chemin

je lui dis bonjour un peu surpris et écoute sa question

Je lui réponds avec le sourire.

Je lui réponds gentiment et continue la conversation.

je lui réponds gentiment.

Je lui rends son sourire et discute avec lui.

Je m'arrête et l'écoute en lui répondant par un sourire.

Je me méfie.

je peux vous aider ?

Je réponds par un sourire

On se connait?

Si c'est quelqu'un que je ne connais pas, je me demande ce qu'il veut me vendre.

si c'est une fille: bonjour :D
si c'est un mec: je passe mon chemin

Si je ne suis pas pressé, je m'arrête et prends le temps de parler avec.


Nous avons remarqué que la plupart d'entre vous se méfient un peu des étrangers et essayent d'éviter le contact avec celui-ci. Alors qu'en France nous avons plutôt tendance à vouloir en savoir plus sur cet étranger.

Pensez-vous que celà vient du fait que les rues aux Etats-Unis ne sont pas très sûres ? ou bien vous est-il inhabituel de parler aux étrangers dans la rue ?

Je me demande également si les dimensions de vos villes ne jouent pas un rôle important dans vos réponses ?

In my opinion, unless the stranger asks me first, I wouldn't really bother asking them or talk to them because I would think that's not what he or she wants even if he or she looks confused by the directions.

I guess if it was in more like in the countryside where there aren't many things to show the directions, the inhabitants would time to time help people who look lost but I would doubt it in big cities. Also most big cities are really crowded and people are busy going there own way and would most likely not notice lost strangers, unless they come and ask instead of smiling.

It's interesting how you would think smiling would mean they need help. Wouldn't people usually make a sad or frustrated expression when they are lost? I think maybe if that's the case, the Americans may also ask the stranger if something is wrong.

It seems from the answers, across all other questions, the French seem to be very direct about their actions and are very open to making contact with other people whereas many Americans seems to avoid contact or wouldn't bother.

The interesting thing is though... I don't think the French would share greetings with strangers in elevators or in other situations where the Americans do with strangers... Now I'm confused...  

I agree with HyoJeong. The French are not known for their small talk, and I was actually very shocked by these responses.  Why is it that you are so willing to help strangers? Are there a lot of lost tourists in Lille? If so, are you used to answering questions?

To answer your questions: I personally would not talk to strangers unless they approached me even in the safest streets in the United States, becaue I wouldn't know what they wanted. 

I am from a small state and most people don't talk there.  So, I don't think its a safety issue as much as a comfort thing.  Most people just aren't comfortable talking to people they don't know.

My hypothesis is that the French believe that a stranger would be approaching them to ask them a question. and they are willing to talk to them and answer their question, but not start a conversation with a stranger randomly (like in the elevators). 

Usually if I see someone smiling at me in the street, I will smile back. If he approaches, I'll stop and see what he needs. From my experience, the stranger mostly asks for direction, somtimes cigarettes or five dollars... I think it's probably safe in the day, but at night, I probably will just walk away quickly.

I think many people here would worry about security, that's why they won't stop. Is security an issue in France?

I agree with everyone here in that smiling does not tell me that someone needs help, so I just smile back in those cases or wonder if I know that person and just forgot.

I usually don't stop unless I'm approached personally by the person, it's not much of a comfort but rather a natural reaction for me; if someone doesn't stop me to ask for help, then I won't stop.

However, as Ye pointed out, the choice of stopping definitely becomes a safety issue at night. This, however, probably just has to do with where I grew up though. I grew up near Los Angeles in California and everyone drives, especially at night; and those few people you see walking around at night are usually bums, gang members, or just people smoking and drinking. So, stopping at night for a stranger is something I would never do.

One thing that interests me is how French interact on the street. In the US, it is considered rude to stare at people for a long period of time. So if two people are approaching each other, they normally look away. Then, maybe right before they're next to each other, they might look at each other. Maybe one will smile, and it's common courtesy to smile back (especially if that other person is a pretty girl). This doesn't happen too often though. Finally, if you need help, you can just say "Excuse me," and normally people are helpful. Conversations may be started while waiting in line or in the elevator, but rarely on the street with strangers.

What are the rules for walking down a street in France? Should you avoid staring at each other, or should you do just the opposite? Does smiling always mean that the person needs directions, or could it also be an act of flirting?


Yes, we are more wary of people on the street - especially at night. Unfortunately some cities have high crime rates, and we are taught from an early age to be wary of strangers. Often my exact response depends on whether I'm with other people, what time of day it is, and what part of town I'm in. If I'm on the MIT campus and someone is smiling at me, I would definitely smile back and say hi. On campus it's likely that I've met the person before or that they are in one of my classes. If I'm in Boston at night by myself, I would avoid eye contact with anyone I don't know. But, if I was in the city at night in a group, I would feel very comfortable smiling at someone. 

Would your response depend on where you are? What if you were in the HLM district?

Je pense surtout que notre réaction dependra du look de la personne qui tente de nous aborder, et bien sur du lieu ou l'on se trouve. Mais personnellement, je pense qu'il vaut mieux répondre à toutes questions, car de véccu les personnes mal attentionés deviennent violentes rapidement si on les ignore en France.

lol évidemment que pour nous aussi ça dépend d'où on est, si nous avons du temps etc... Mais bon si quelqu'un nous aborde avec un grand sourire on se demande toujours ce qu'il va nous demander. En réponse à Danielle les quartiers HLM ont une mauvaise réputation ici en France, mais ne sont pas tous des ghettos, certains peuvent être plutôt jolis (ok c'est rare mais bon), mieux vaut ne pas avoir trop d'a-prioris...
Sinon à part ça excusez-nous de ne pas être plus présents sur le forum, on est conscients que ça peut être frustrant pour vous de ne pas avoir plus de réponses mais effectivement nous n'avons que 2 heures d'anglais par semaine (alors qu'il me semble que vous en avez 6) et ces échanges sur les différents thèmes proposés par le forum ne se font pas de façon naturelle (demander comment réagirais-tu si on t'aborde avec un grand sourire dans la rue n'est pas la première chose qu'on ferait spontanément lors d'un échange, on aurait plutôt tendance à se présenter, dire quelles sont nos passions et activités afin de trouver outre atlantique quelqu'un avec qui on a des points communs etc...) et les différents sujets proposés par le forum peuvent être intéressants au premier abord mais finalement l'échange reste assez superficiel, on n'apprend pas réellement à se connaître alors que c'est ça un vériatble échange (à mes yeux en tout cas), et ça nous stimulerait surement plus. Donc malheureusement on ne pense pas souvent à aller regarder sur le forum le soir en rentrant chez nous. Quoi qu'il en soit on va faire un effort à partir de maintenant. Arigatô Gozaimasu


We have 3 hours and 20 minutes of French per week (4 classes x 50 minutes).  I agree that these conversations can becaome superficial and also repetitive.  Nonetheless, we are required to write on these boards as a part of our homework (and we are reminded every week in our assignments), therefore we do come back to write on the boards quite often.  It also appears that there are more American students in the French class here at MIT, than the number of French students in the English class at ENSAM, which also inflates the number of responses by American students.