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. Quelqu'un que vous ne connaissez pas vous aborde avec un grand sourire.

  • "Wassup!" and probably keep on walking.
  • I'd feel rather creeped out.
  • I'd feel sort of uncomfortable, look away from them, and just keep walking past, probably more quickly.
  • I'm from NYC so I'm always a little dubious of strangers approaching me.
  • I keep walking.
  • I measure them up based on what they are wearing and their cleanliness. If they seem to be proper, I'm stay wary but will talk to them. If they don't and I feel threatened, I turn around and walk quickly away.
  • I might look a second longer to make sure I don't know them, and if I don't watch slightly to the side of them.
  • I see what he/she wants to ask/say.
  • I smile back, perhaps with less of a big smile. I wonder if they might know me and I try to recognize them.
  • I think thats very wierd and would frown
  • I will listen
  • I would be wary, as they are probably selling something
  • I would put my head down and walk faster.
  • I would respond politely to anything the stranger says, but would feel uncomfortable and try to escape as soon as possible
  • I would slow down and become very cautious, and look around to check if there were any other people near me in case I needed help, but unless I was alone, I would probably be friendly as long as they didn't get too close to me.
  • I would smile back.
  • I would try to steer away from them. I would also make sure to keep my hand in my pocket with my wallet.
  • I would walk away quickly and tell him to get away from me.
  • Maybe smile back.
  • Smile back but feel uneasy
  • Smile back but walk away
  • Think it is creepy, and if I were alone try to get away, but if I were in a public place with lots of other people not worry too much about it until I had more information
  • j'attends qu'il m'explique pourquoi il désire me parler si c'est juste pour discuter ça ne me pose aucun problème
  • J'essaie de savoir ce qu'il veut
  • J'écoute ce qu'il veut me dire mais si la personne en question me fait perdre mon temps je mets un terme à la discussion.
  • J'écoute rapidement ce pourquoi il m'adresse la parole. Si je ne me sens pas concerné, je continue mon chemin.
  • je ferai de même et je sourirai
  • Je l'aborde à mon tour avec un grand sourire
  • Je lui dis "Bonjour" et écoute ce qu'il a à me dire.
  • je lui donne le même intéret
  • Je lui renvoie son sourire.
  • je lui souris aussi.
  • Je m'arrête pour connaître ce qu'il veut, si le sujet n'est pas important, je décline la discussion.
  • Je me méfie de lui.
  • Je me méfie mais j'attends de savoir ce qu'il veut pour réagir.
  • je souris à mon tour ! c'est bien de sourire même aux étrangers !
  • Je souris également par politesse, et la salue poliment avant de continuer mon chemin.
  • je suis aimablement perturbé mais lui réponds avec un sourire
  • Je vais être un peu surpris voir gêné, mais je vais l'écouter parler pour savoir ce qu'il veut
  • S'il essaie de me vendre quelque chose, je marche. Si cette personne a l'air saine et sympathique, je discute volontiers.


A priori, les français ont des réactions plutôt positives, et les américains plutôt négatives. Avez vous l’habitude de vous faire aborder par des gens étranges ou par des vendeurs de rue ?
Et question à part que m’inspire ce sujet : quelle est la population de votre ville d’origine, et celle de votre ville actuelle ? Ma ville d’origine n’a que 6 000 habitants et Bordeaux 240 000, peut être cela donnerait une nouvelle vision de cette différence de réponse.

La d’ou je viens on était 10 000 habitant à peu près et les vendeurs de rue, recruteurs de donateurs, marchant de roses, et tous ce genre de personnes qui ne te connaisse pas mais t’abordent avec un grand sourire dans la rue bah il n’y en avait pas. Cela expliquerai surement pourquoi je ne me méfierais pas forcément d’une telle personne.
Mais n’y aurait-il pas d’autres causes à cette méfiance comme par exemple le fait qu’on répète à nos enfant de ne pas parler aux étranger dans la rue. Peut-être qu’inconsciemment une sorte méfiance systématique se serait installée.

Pratiquement, dans les réponses des français, ces derniers agissent positivement alors que les américains adoptent plutôt une attitude négative et essayent d’ignorer cette personne ! Franchement j’aime bien savoir est ce que cela est dû au fait que se balader dans les rues aux USA n’est pas autant sécurisé ?

Honestly, this discussion shocked me a little bit - I always had the impression that Americans were more “open and friendly,” but perhaps this only applies in interactions with people we know well? Or in suburbs (I am from a friendly suburb close to Boston where most people would definitely smile back)? Here, the Americans gave much more “suspicious” responses – maybe this is a result of living in the city? (We all live in Cambridge, Massachusetts). Perhaps this is also a result of us living in the Northeast of the country – it is said that people living in Southern states are more open with strangers, so perhaps the responses would have been different if we attended a university in the South!

Les français ont apparu une attitude positive envers les inconnus, alors que les américains les ignorent fermement. Est ce que les américains dévoilent souvent une attitude non amicale envers les étranges.

Like @mhk points out, the French responses seem much friendlier toward strangers. I come from the suburbs of a big city, and I think that actually amplified the sense of “stranger danger” that my parents tried to teach me. Growing up, my parents warned me that the city (and generally, places outside of our hometown) was full of people who would try to take advantage of me. For the longest time, they didn’t let me to go into Manhattan with my friends without a parent chaperone. It’s also interesting because both of my parents grew up in New York City, very independent, so I guess they don’t think I can handle the lifestyle they had during their childhoods, based on the upbringing I had.

I think one reason for these differences is the amount of diversity that exists in America. With differences comes bad connotations like discrimination and prejudice. As much as we try to fight it, there are many examples of prejudice in American society, even in law enforcement (maybe especially in law enforcement). For instance: stop-and-frisk police behavior in New York. In France, this seems like less of an issue. To the French students: Have you ever felt judged solely based on your appearance?

I agree with @kashlgh. Growing up in a fairly small town in a more rural area, I was very open to strangers, and never assumed they were dangerous or anything. But as soon as my parents started taking me on trips to the city, that changed; they taught me that there were many dangerous people out there, so you have to assume that people want to take advantage of you, just to protect yourself.
I wonder if children are taught similar things in France? That strangers in general are dangerous, so one must beware. Given how positive and open the French responses are, I feel that people must be taught differently about what to assume about others, and as a result how to act towards others in public.

Just from first glance the Americans seem more standoffish or distant whereas the French appear to be more engaging. I feel both sides are put off by the smiling stranger but interact with them differently. Typically on the American side, people wouldn’t talk to the person or even smile back and kind of naturally assumed the person was a threat. The French however, talked and engaged the stranger in order to come to a conclusion. Is French culture more open to strangers than American culture? And to expand does that include foreigners and not just fellow citizens who are strangers? I ask since both countries immigration policy have been mentioned a lot especially recently.

I find it interesting how the French are more willing to be friendly and inquire as to why the stranger is smiling while the Americans are very passive aggressive and dont want to interact with the stranger. This could possbily be due to the individualistic mannerisms of Americans as they tend to keep to themselves and not interact with those they dont know. Also I feel like in American society many people are wary of strangers and dont necessarily think that everyone has good intentions. Why are the French more open to connecting with stranges?

It’s interesting to note that even though both groups had different extents of the friendliness towards the stranger (which seems to influenced by the upbringing) it was definitely present the notion of being wary of strangers, especially “friendly” ones. It seems to be encoded in human nature to be careful of the unknown. Science!

I also thought it was interesting how many French were willing to stop and talk to the stranger, even if only for a short time. Personally, whenever I sense someone coming up to me in the street I don’t know, I walk faster and look away in hopes to avoid contact, and I feel like this is pretty standard behavior in the United States. In France, are you not taught to avoid strangers from a young age? In the United States, many parents discourage their children from ever talking to or interacting with strangers and I feel like this upbringing may have influenced the responses.

In my case, I grew up in Shanghai for many of my formative years (ages 7-13). I started roaming the city on my own by the time I was 10 and was warned against talking to strangers. They could thieves, trying to distract me while another took my stuff, or they could be innocent people, or they could be kidnappers. If people approach me with questions on the street, of course I will try my best to respond, but if they’re approaching me with a big smile and no indication of what they want I will always assume they have an ulterior motive. For the most part, I avoid talking to people on the street; I almost always walk around with my headphones in and my hand on my purse (this is how I taught myself to keep my phone and wallet from getting stolen in China - as long as you can still hear your music, your phone is still with you and thieves can’t take your wallet if your hand is in the way) unless it’s very late at night (in which case I don’t keep my headphones in so that I can be more aware of my surroundings if someone tries to attack me).

I definitely think this is just a case of where you were brought up - one of my friends is from Wellesley, a wealthy suburban area outside of Boston, and she definitely doesn’t have any of the concerns I have when we’re walking down the street.

@Mathieu, I moved around a lot, but the city I lived in the longest was Houston, which has a population of around 6 million, so it’s a very large city. I think my response was biased in this regard because Houston is both a large city in population and in size, and because of this very few people actually walk or take the public transportation. The people that you do end up seeing walking on the streets in Houston are homeless people, so more likely than not, I would probably not stop and talk to them in that case. Are there a lot of homeless people in French cities? Out of curiosity, I’ve heard the stereotype that the French can be unfriendly if people do not make an effort to speak the language, would you act differently to a stranger on the street if they began by speaking in French vs. if they spoke English?

@hera013 I think where you grow up can definitely influence how you react, but I grew up in a nice suburb of New York City. Maybe it is just because the major city I was closest to was New York, but whenever I would see some unknown person approaching me on the street, even in my little hometown, I would try to avoid contact. I think a lot of it would have to do with the type of people in the area who usually approach people on the street - people trying to sell things, people trying to get directions, bizarre people….

If a stranger is approaching you on the street, do you automatically make assumptions about what they want?

@Mathieu Growing up, it was actually very rare for me to be in situations where a stranger would come up to me and try to start a conversation on the streets. I don’t know if that’s because my exposure to big city life was limited, or maybe the American sense of distrust toward strangers is just unfounded. However, living in San Francisco over the summer was one of the first times in my life where I felt like I got approached by a lot of random people on the streets. The homeless population in Northern California is huge and also much more intrusive than the homeless in Manhattan; for example, they aren’t afraid to come up to you and start trying to intimidate you. They are much more reckless. But the people who approached me weren’t just homeless people, there were also several guys on the street who would strike up conversations with me and then try to get my phone number or things like that. (For reference, I was an 18 year old girl, living a 6-hour flight away from her parents for the first time) That summer opened my eyes to how relatively safe Boston and New York were.

Like others have expressed, I am likewise surprised by responses by the American students. We’re more suspicious of smiling strangers than I would have imagined. It is interesting that the French, who tend to be more formal are more accepting of smiling strangers than we are.

I agree with those above who have mentioned that being approached by a stranger is often because they are homeless and possibly mentally ill, at least in big cities. However, this doesn’t strike me as being typical of a situation where the stranger is smiling. My intuition is that the responses on the American side of feeling “creeped out” is specifically because of the stranger’s smile, and that this may be because you may think the stranger is either hitting on you (making a romantic/sexual advance), is some sort of missionary, or else wants to sell you something or swindle you. All of these are considered “creepy” in some way in our society. Is it the same in France?

Je ne comprends pas trop la défiance générale que semble provoquer la rencontre avec un inconnue qui vous souri. Bien sur cela peut être compréhensible dans des situations particulières ou dans des zones qui sembles dangereuses mais avoir peur de l’inconnue de façcon systématique me semble préjudiciable. Ne pensez vous pas que vous vous enfermer vous-même à agir de cette manière ?

Je suis du même que @mhk, j’avais toujours l’impression que les américains sont plutôt ouvert d esprit et prêt à entrer dans des discussions facilement, surtout ce qui nous est passé en films ou en pranks … Pourtant cette discussion montre totalement l’inverse, vu que les français sont plutôt souriant face à quelqu’un qui leur montre de la gentillesse.

Je suis du même que @mhk, j’avais toujours l’impression que les américains sont plutôt ouvert d esprit et prêt à entrer dans des discussions facilement, surtout ce qui nous est passé en films ou en pranks … Pourtant cette discussion montre totalement l’inverse, vu que les français sont plutôt souriant face à quelqu’un qui leur montre de la gentillesse.

Jean-Michel Durant, I think you’re right but then general sentiment is “better safe than sorry.” I also think our responses have a lot to do with how this phrase was worded. If it had said “You’re walking down the street when someone smiles at you” we probably would have answered differently. But because it says “in a big city,” “a stranger,” and “approaches you,” there is the sense that it’s more than just a friendly smile. A person would only approach you if they needed/wanted something - which could be as innocent as asking for directions but could also be something more dangerous.

I agree that the wording made many of the Americans a bit skeptical, but it seems to me that the French wording depicts a similar scenario. I wonder why we tended to immediately jump to more negative conclusions? Does “aborde” have a menacing connotation at all like “approaches you” does?

@elemency, justement la phrase “better safe than sorry” me choque. Car comme je l’ai dis préalablement, dans une situation normale (non potentiellement dangereuse) je ne voit pas vraiment ce que je pourrait risquer à retourner un sourire à un inconnue et à lui parler. Je préfère agir de cette manière quitte à prendre un (petit) risque (encore une fois lequel ?) plutôt que de m’exclure moi-même et cette personne. Ne pense-tu pas qu’il y a un risque également à vouloir à tout pris esquivé le moindre danger ?

I don’t know if this will resonate with everybody, but I think it’s interesting to note that although a lot of the comments seem to say like “I would get away; I should not interact with any strangers”, everybody we know was once a stranger to us. Maybe it’s the environment (a random stranger in the street) that makes us react this way.

@Jean-Michel This doesn’t quite answer your question, but I thought I’d give another point of view: I wrote that I would be wary of them, but I think in real life it would depend a lot on how this person was approaching me. In my head I imagined a middle-aged man staring straight at me with a big smile, wide eyes, and walking straight toward me. This, to me, would cause more discomfort than a woman with children or a person my age/younger whose facial expression was less “intense” than I originally imagined. So I guess a lot of it comes down to their body language as they approach me as well. I think that would tell me more about their possible intent, leading me to either react negatively from the start or to hear them out and see what they have to say. But in either case, I wouldn’t completely avoid talking to/interacting with them unless I felt seriously threatened for some reason.

@laika : je suis d’accord que ça dépend du langage corporel de la personne aussi oui, mais dans le cas de la phrase, c’était vraiment quelqu’un qui souriait, je ne pense pas que le côté flippant était à incorporer dans l’avis. Du coup, si quelqu’un de sympathique s’approche vers vous et que vous le rembarrez, je suis du côté de Jean-Micheirb pour le coup