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.

Avoid them!


depending on their aspect and who I am with, I will either smile back or look in another direction and ignore them

I make sure that there are people around me and that I have an escape route.

I smile back and continue walking.

I smile back.

I will smile back, but not lose my guard.

I would keep walking ahead!

I would smile back and continue walking.

I would smile back and say "hello".

I would smile back and think quickly whether or not I ought to recognize this person.

I would smile back.

I would wait expectantly

It depends what they look like, but I would wait and see if they need soething

Make eye contact and give a small smile back, but avoid them, speed up, and pass by them

Smile back, but don't make eye contact.

Ca n'arrive jamais sauf pour demander de l'argent

J'écoute ce qu'il a à me dire et je lui réponds.

J'écoute ce que cette personne a à me dire.

Je l'écoute brièvement, mais si cela ne m'intéresse pas, si je suis pressé ou si cette personne est insistante, je lui fais savoir et continue mon chemin.

Je l'écoute.

Je la salue et je passe mon chemin.

je lui dis que je ne suis pas du coin et je me sauve.

Je lui dis que je suis pressé

Je lui laisse faire son show.

Je lui réponds gentiment, mais je ne l'ignore pas. Même si elle me demande de l'argent. Dans ce cas, je décline poliment sa demande.

je lui réponds par un grand sourire et je lui serre la main

Je lui réponds un sourire également, et j'écoute ce qu'il a à me dire. Si c'est une jolie fille c'est encore mieux.

Je lui souris en retour.

Je lui souris par politesse. Je me demande cependant ce qu'il me veut, les gens sourient rarement gratuitement

Je souris et j'accepte d'engager la conversation.

Je souris et si la personne me parle, je lui réponds (sauf si elle parait bizarre, je trouve un moyen de détourner la conversation et partir).

Psychopathe! J'appelle la police tout de suite.


French students are much much more relaxed than Americans. I don't know what French cities are like, but I think I would get super annoyed if I stopped and talked to every single person who approached me with a smile in New York City. Is it just more common here, or are all y'all French students just more laid-back and trusting? 

I was suprised how many French students said that they would listen to the person, implying that the person with a smile had an agenda. Here it isn't that out of the ordinary to have a person smile at you and not want to talk, while in France that must not be the case. I come from a small Midwestern town, though, so I just assume that every person I pass is going to give me a big smile. I guess that it is different in cities. 


Hmm, it seems to be the case that students took the question to mean different things. The americans took it as "you see a person smiling and walking by you," the french took it as "a person approaches you with a smile, wanting to ask you something;" hence the different answers.

Even accounting for that discrepancy, I was still very suprised to see things like "make sure I have an escape rute, look into another direction and ignore them, avoid them!, creeper" ... I mean, really? How else should someone approach you to get a more personable response? 

I found the French to be much more willing to reciprocate.

The French were more willing to listen and smile back or help, whereas even though the Americans may have been willing to listen and smile back, they were also either skeptical about the person or in a rush. 

This probably has to do with the more busy environment, and fear of crime that pervades the USA. I wonder what the crime is like in France? I hear that the French are more relaxed with the 35-hour work weeks. Would you agree?

I agree that there is a general fear of crime in the USA that may make us a bit skeptical but I don't agree that we should just avoid a stranger with a smile. Maybe do not engage in conversations but smile back at least. The french seem completely opposite in this aspect and I find it pretty interesting.

Les Français paraissent en effet plus ouverts à la discussion mais cette proposition est assez imprécise et donne lieu à de nombreuses situations : comme l'a souligné notamment Kirstyn, dans une grande ville comme New York, il devient vite ennuyeux d'être ouvert à n'importe qui nous souriant dans la rue, au contraire d'une petite ville, où l'atmosphère est moins stressant.

De plus, il faut prendre en compte d'autres paramètres comme le type de sourire (plutôt sincère, inquiétant...) et bien sûr l'apparence de la personne nous abordant (et oui !).

Je pense que ça dépend de la personne ou de la ville où ont se trouve. A Bordeaux les gens sont plutôt détendus. Au contraire à Paris il est possible que les gens répondent différemment car ils sont plus stressés et car il y aussi un nombre plus important de gens bizarres.

@Margaret C'est qu'en France les gens ne sont pas très souriant en général avec les gens qu'ils ne connaissent pas.

Sinon, la semaine dernière, j'ai vu une personne demander quelque chose à des gens devant moi et j'ai été très surpris de les voir accélérer et regarder ailleurs en l'ignorant. Quand je suis arrivé à son niveau il m'a parlé et je l'ai écouté, et il voulait seulement savoir comment se rendre à son rendez-vous en ville. J'étais vraiment étonné que les gens l'aient ignoré comme ça.

Il est clair que les Français semblent plus ouverts à la discussion, car nous ne sommes pas vraiment effrayés. Mais comme l'a dit Joffrey, cela dépend beaucoup de l'apparence de la personne qui nous aborde.

@Kirstyn et Margaret

En France, si quelqu'un que tu ne connais pas te souris dans la rue, il y a 90% de chances pour qu'il vienne te parler ensuite. Les sourires "gratuits" sont très rares. Et ce quelque soit la ville.

@Ralph Je pense que tu as raison, à Paris par exemple beaucoup de gens ignorent les personnes qui leur parlent (que ce soit pour demander un renseignement poliment ou autre). Sûrement parce que la plupart des Parisiens sont des gens pressés. Dans les autres villes françaises, comme Bordeaux, c'est un peu différent, les gens sont généralement plus ouverts et plus disponibles. Après, je ne sais pas si c'est dû aux 35h en particulier.

I am curious about a slightly different scenario.

If you pass an acquaintance, someone who you know but don’t want to talk to, in the street, would you acknowledge them? Here, it would, in most cases, be rude to not smile or briefly nod at someone that you know. Is it the same, or do you just keep walking?


You mention not being afraid as one possible reason for being open to conversations. I wonder what is the common sense of security when you walk down the streets. Do you feel that you should be very aware of your surroundings or feel secure that the possibility of something occuring are low? 

On the same note as @Margaret, I'd like to know if the French acknowledge a familiar person with a greeting or a few words, or if they walk by ignorantly if they don't want to talk to the person.

At MIT people often times play ignorant and look at their phones or in a different direction just to avoid interactions, if they decide they don't want to talk to that person :) This could all be avoided by just saying 'Hi, I'm sorry but I have to run,' rather than pretend not to see the person, yet people still do it. Would you say that happens frequently at Einserb?  

The Americans seems more directly concerned with the implications of interacting with a stranger on the streets in the first place. From a young age, we are taught to never do such a thing and being an adult does not necessarily preclude the dangers of such interaction, especially in a large city like Boston. We are all too familiar with the confidence tricks and scams that have been known to take place around our campus. Therefore, the smiling person may elicit the more negative consequences of public interaction rather than the benefits of common courtesy and being a good person.

It was remarkable how the Americans did not mention money at all whereas some of the French had the immediate suspicion that that was the agenda of the smiling person. It seems to me there are social implications that can be understood from this observation. What do you think? I feel that the French have more perspective on the matter and are in general more willing to interact with strangers, whereas the Americans are more susceptible to being cautious and socially removed.

In Boston, it is also fairly common to be stopped on the street by people working for organizations and charities.  Usually one person will be stationed on each block of a busy street, and will ask people walking by if they want to "save the children" or "support ___ rights."  So maybe because we are used to these people, many American students wrote that they would just speed up and ignore the person who approached them.  Do they have these sorts of people in France?  (people who just stand on the street and approach everyone to get them to give donations)

@Victor Ne pas saluer quelqu'un qu'on connait quand on le croise est aussi vu comme impoli en France.

@Alex Je ne peux pas parler pour les autres, mais personnellement, je pense qu'on ne perd rien à écouter ce qu'on nous veut. Après, on peut décider de notre attitude.

@Robin Ca dépends des villes, mais globalement oui, je pense qu'il y a des gens comme ça partout.

Pour nuancer un peu ce que j'ai dit précédemment, il faut garder le contexte à l'esprit. A Paris par exemple, il y a des lignes de métro connues parcequ'on sait qu'on y sera abordé par des mendiants dès qu'on l'utilise. Du coup, les gens qui prenne cette rame tous les jours finissent par avoir l'habitude et deviennent indifférents.

@Joffrey: While I agree that the appearance of a stranger is an important factor to take into consideration, sometimes even that can be deceiving. The best scam artists tend to take advantage of this widespread assumption and make themselves to appear harmless and credible with legitimate businesses, charities, issues, etc. I remember a few people were outside of the main entrance to campus supposedly in support of a political candidate, and they telling people to vote and giving out the official voter registration forms. They looked like completely harmless middle-aged women. However, when they offered to submit the forms on my behalf, I became super paranoid since the forms required four digits of my social security. I thenceforth became suspicious of the women and declined to give them my form, even though they might have legitimately wanted to increase voter output in the election. Given, they understood my concerns and didn't mind, but who is to say they weren't looking out for that one misguided person to actually do it?

J'ai beau chercher, je n'ai jamais vu quelqu'un en France demander un numéro personnel comme un numéro de sécu ou de carte d'identité dans la rue, c'est beaucoup trop personnel.

Je me demande aussi, parallèlement aux gens qui approchent avec un sourire, quel est le rapport à la mendicité aux USA ?
Par exemple, quand un mendiant demande de l'argent pour manger, y-a-til beaucoup d'hésitation à lui en donner ? Le regardez-vous ou détournez-vous la tête en pressant le pas ?

Sinon, pour répondre à Margaret, si je croise quelqu'un que je connais à peine, même si je n'ai pas particulièrement envie de la voir, je glisserai au moins un "salut" par politesse.