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

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

Depending on how he looks, I may smile back and this could be the start of a new friendship.

I keep my distance and ask him how I can be of help, staying aware that chances are he will try to sell you something.

I keep walking, don't pay attention to them, and keep my guards up.

I quickly attempt to walk away or take out my phone.

I smile at the stranger and continue walking, especially if it's at night time.

I smile back and say hello.

I smile back!

I would assume he is canvassing for a political organization.

I would be surprised but would smile back.

I would just keep walking past him or her and not pay any attentiona

I would just smile back and keep on walking.

I would probably smile back, but if the stranger keeps staring, then I would keep my distance.

I would smile back and keep walking.

I would smile back at him or her because I don't have a reason to act otherwise.

I would smile back normally and keep walking, only reacting if the stranger says or does anything else.

If he asks to talk to me, I'd talk. I'd be a little cautious, but also

If on the East Coast, ignore them. If on the West Coast, quickly smile and continue walking.

Politely yet enthusiastically greet them.

Smile and keep walking.

smile back and say hello

smile back.

après un long séjour aux US je souris aussi

Dépend de la situation.

J'écoute ce qu'elle a à me dire et lui réponds courtoisement.

Je discute avec lui sans aucun problème cela ne me gêne pas du tout si la personne est gentille.

Je lui accorde mon attention

Je lui dis bonjour ou fais un petit sourire

je lui rends son sourire et je continue à avancer

Je lui rends un sourire.

Je lui retourne son sourire.

je lui sourirais et lui dirais bonjour

je lui souris à mon tour.

Je lui souris en retour et attends de voir ce qu'elle me veut en continuant à marcher doucement

Je lui souris en retour.

je me demande ce qu'il me veut.

Je réponds en essayant d'être aussi courtoise que l'inconnu(e).

Je rends le sourire.

Je reste polie mais abrège l'échange.

je souris

je souris en retour

oh non encore un dragueur...


The responses from both sides are very similar. An overwhelming majority would smile back at the person. Some on the American side would just keep walking, while ignoring the person and being cautious. Others on the French side would respond to the stranger, but also with caution. The interesting thing is that there were so few negative responses, especially in view of rampant crime in the big cities. Does anyone have an explanation for this? Also, I found it funny that one French person assumed that the stranger is a flirt.

The responses from both sides are very similar but there are a few differences.  Not many students from the American side said that they would actually converse with the stranger while many French students said they would at least say "bonjour."  Whis is that?  Is it because in American culture there is a distrust of strangers?

The vast majority of the answers on both sides was to at least smile back (could be as a sign of courtesy, or just common sense for those people), and I wanted to know whether the French answers considered that the situation occurred in a 'big city', considering the different types of populations and communities, as discussed in the suburbs/balieue forum. As an example, a somewhat stereotypical somparison was made by the American side when someone stated "if in the East Coast, ignore and keep walking; if in the West Coast, smile", or something along those lines. These are differences between big cities, so it wouldn't surprise me if the conditions for the situation factored in those responses.

My experience in Boston has been that no strangers smile at you unless they want something (a date, to sell you something, for you to give them something) or are a tourist.  In the area I grew up in (a smaller city in NY state), it's completely normal for people to smile and say hi to strangers they pass.  I used to smile at people when I first came here, but found it had a tendency to invite unwanted attention, so now I don't unless they are a neighbor or something.

In France, are there big differences between how you would behave in a large city vs a less urban area? Are there differences in how "friendly" different regions are perceived to be?


J'ai eu une deuxième réflexion sur cette situation. Lyon est une assez grande ville et franchement, on ne regarde pas forcément la tête des gens dans la rue (sauf la façon dont ils sont habillés!). Si on les regarde et si l'un d'eux sourit, on se demande si on le connaît, donc on cherche dans sa mémoire. Je suis d'origine malgache (Madagascar) et la plupart des gens qui me sourient dans la rue sont souvent malgaches aussi. C'est un sourire de connivence "salut, nous venons du même pays". J'ai mis la réponse "oh non encore un dragueur" parce que la plupart du temps aussi dans ces situations j'ai droit à un sourire suivi d'un regard entendu suivi de "Bonjour mademoiselle"...

@Christy, il y a aussi la même différence entre grande ville/petite ville/campagne. Moins il y a de monde, plus on est dans la convivialité (sourire+bonjour). Il faut dire que dans les endroits où la population est moins dense, il y a moins d'inconnus qui abordent les gends. Après mes collègues peuvent ne pas être d'accord avec ce que je dis.

Je suis surprise que le plupart des gens disent sourire en retour à l'inconnu. Je suis partie en stage dans un pays où les gens sont très souriants. En rentrant en France, j'avais pris l'habitude de me balader avec le sourire bêtement fixé sur le visage... j'ai plus rencontré de regards perplexes ou fuyants que de réponses joyeuses ! Et, j'ai vite perdu mon habitude (hélas !) pour revenir au regard neutre / visage neutre qu'on croise partout dans les grandes villes.

Christy, oui, il y a des endroits où le comportement des gens changent. Par exemple, en ville - surtout les grandes - les gens ne s'abordent pas dans la rue, se regardent à peine (sauf les dragueurs). Cela est peut être dû au stress et au rythme que la vie urbaine impose. En revanche, à la campagne ou en montagne, le comportement change et devient l'opposé. On prend le temps de vivre, d'apprécier les choses. Et c'est naturellement qu'on va sourire aux gens qu'on croise et qu'on va même leur dire bonjour. Certains iraient même plus loin (comme mon père qui est un grand bavard !).

Pour les régions de France plus ou moins amicales, je pense que c'est très subjectif, en accord avec les expériences qu'on a eues, on peut toujours mal tomber. Mais je ne pense pas qu'il y ait une région plus amicale qu'une autre. Et chez vous aux USA ?

I guess it's just a matter of politeness. Right now, there's this dude outside of the main building trying to sell books about meditation and peace of mind. Needless to say, most people try to avoid walking into him. However, if he smiles at you (and you already know that he wants something), smiling back is just being polite. Additionally (or at least that's what I did), you could listen to the blurb that he has prepared and then say "no, thanks".

Personally, I find it really hard to smile at strangers on the street. Not because I'm bitter, or anything, but just because I don't really see the point. Of course, if I'm really happy about something, I smile in their general direction --not really at them.

@Lova, that makes a lot more sense then. I just found the answer somewhat odd taken out of context. Thanks for clarifying.

I mostly agree with what has been said. I find that people in small villages smile at each other more than people in big cities. However, in my opinion, that has mostly to do with the fact that you are more familiar with the people on the streets in small villages than you are with those in big cities. Most people smile at their acquaintances even in big cities.

To answer Caroline's question, I think there actually is somewhat of a difference between the East and West coast. People on the West coast tend to be much more open than people on East coast (at least that's what I have found). However, I think one could almost say that those two cultures are quite different, so I don't find it very surprising that the people are different.

Elaborating on what Adrian said, I can see perhaps a really quick smile as being polite, but I totally understand why some people wouldn't want to all out smile - smiling back at someone sends a signal that you acknowledge the other person and are willing to interact/engage in conversation. Maybe the other person seems a little sketchy, maybe you don't want to be's not that you're inherently unhappy, but subconsciously you don't want to make yourself open to the stranger in some situations, especially in a big city. In smaller places, though, one may not be so hesitant, and an all out smile would come out more naturally rather than just a quick, "just to be polite" smile.

In regards to Mr I'm-a-wannabe-meditation-guy mentioned above, I don't think that not smiling back is rude at all. I find it more rude that he's trying to interrupt me from getting somewhere so that he can shove his stupid books in my face. I always ignore him. What's the point in wasting 30 seconds of my life listening to his bs? If I was interested in whatever it is he's trying to push, I would approach him.

I'm more likely to respond to a random tourist though.

@Lova, I understand what you mean when someone from the same country smiles at you.  I always smile at other Mexicans whenever I make eye contact with them, even if they are a complete stranger.  It's acknowledging that you both share something in common.


I am always smiling whenever I am walking and as such I don't really smile at people.  Sometimes, I will smile at a random stranger if I keep a prolonged eye contact or they smile at me first.

I'm from the a small town in the Midwest where everyone acknowledges everyone.  Small talk is completely normal.  For instance, it's weird to me to have a silent ride in the elevator.  On airplane flights, I usually chat with the person next to me until at least the plane gets off the ground.  Even if you don't talk to strangers passing you by on the street, do you strike conversations with people when you're forced to be in the same space as them for a given amount of time?

I think another geographical difference in the US is between "North" and "South." I'm from New Jersey, near New York City, and life in general is more fast-paced there. People walk like they're on a mission, and rarely stop to talk to strangers. From my brief travels to the south, life is much slower so people don't mind stopping to talk to strangers. It's not seen as such an inconvenience as it is in the "north."

In the US, this is definitely a situation that is based on geographic location. For example, I'm from Florida and if someone smiles at me, I'm used to smiling back. However, one of my good friends is from New York and she says that she is used to just walking past and ignoring people. I think it's based on where you are within the US and the type of interactions and culture amongst the people there. 

I agree with Kieran. It would be rude of someone to interrupt you. The situation was somewhat different (someone smiles at you in the streets), and I think that is why so many people instinctly said smile back; nothing abrupt seems to happen from the guy smiling, so why not. The ones that responded otherwise had some stereotype about the guy and assumed something of him, and so this queston seems very interesting for when there's diversity. Do the French make any assumotions about strangers that smile -if one could say it that way-?

@ Amanda: I think being more or less inclined to conversation with strangers is more due to one's personality than geographical influence. I'm also from the midwest and while I don't find it odd if people strike up conversation, for example, if we're in an elevator together, but I also don't feel obliged to make conversation. In regards to smiling, if I make eye contact with someone while walking down the hallway at a close enough distance, I think it's polite to smile at them and acknowledge their existence instead of just looking away and continuing on. With regards to the meditation guy, I think smiling back when someone smiles at you is polite, but also can be seen as an invitation to be approached. A nod is probably less personable.

Personnellement j'ai répondu "J'écoute ce qu'elle a à me dire et lui réponds courtoisement.". Mon commentaire démontre une attitude très méfiante envers les inconnus et même ceux qui nous abordent avec un sourire. Je suis surprise de voir que je suis l'une des seules à avoir répondu avec de la méfiance alors que la plupart des français ont répondu qu'ils souriaient en retour. Mais ils n'ont pas dit s'ils passaient leur chemin ou s'ils s'arrêtaient pour écouter ce que la personne a à dire. Les américains ont répondu qu'ils souriraient et qu'ils passaient leur chemin.

@Emilie, that is interesting that you were the only one that said that would listen to what they would have to say.  I guess that this was not first to come to everyone's mind when answering the questions.


It is interesting that many people had a sort of set stereotype when the stranger would approach them.  Do many Americans have this stereotype when they are approached by a stranger or is it dependent on region?

I found it strange that only one French person assumed the person was a creep! I rarely make eye contact with men (much less smile at them) because that just starts the annoying "Ça va? T'es très jolie" talk. I guess if it was a woman or an unassuming kind of guy I'd smile back, but I wouldn't be as relaxed to do it if I was in the US.