Half a croissant, on a plate, with a sign in front of it saying '50c'
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Smiling at Strangers.com

Fear free smiling
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(+16, -3)
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"You've really frightened that poor man" Mrs Ivan observed, deploying her resigned tone, "and what the hell are you drinking now?"
We were sitting in the bar of the Bear hotel in Crickhowell, having just finished a very pleasant meal served by a very surly waitress. Mrs Ivan had nibbled at an inch square piece of monkfish with a blackcurrant on top for the vitamins, and I was close to intestinal rupture having failed to register the "for two persons" notice under the unnecessarily torrid description of leg of lamb on the menu. I was expecting a couple of slices and they bought me half a sheep and were most surpised to learn that only one plate was required. Over the last two hours the hotel staff had been looking in to see how I was doing and a quiet ripple of applause sounded through the kitchen door when eventually a well cleaned bone had been returned.
"I only asked if I could have a taste of his pudding, I had my own spoon" I defended myself, genuinely wounded. "bread and butter ice cream sounds nice but I wanted to check before I committed myself"

You see I tend to smile at strangers, for no reason. I strike up conversations appropos of nothing. I ask them what they think of their food before I order mine and occasionally ask if I can try their puddings if I can't make up my mind.
If it goes down badly I drop it immediately, one doesn't want to be a bore, but usually I find the resulting conversation very rewarding.

"He didn't mind letting me have some, he said so" I persisted weakly.
"He was too damn scared not to let you have any"

I was starting to feel rotten, and wondering whether I should order a brandy for him as an apology, seeing my expression Mrs Ivan softened a little, "well not scared really", she said "more surprised I suppose".

I still believe that smiling at strangers is a 'good' thing, even if they are a bit surprised, I propose a website to be called "smilingatstrangers.com" so that I can continue to do so without scaring them. The principle would be to have people log on and connect their webcam in conference mode, no sound just the video. Then, randomly, the participants would be connected to one another from all over the planet for a period of say 4 seconds each. Just enough time to smile, no language difficulties or pressure to think of something to say, just a big genuine smile and move on.

Of coure you could only stand it for a few minutes but thats probably a good thing unless you want Airline Stewardess Mouth Syndrome.
IvanIdea, Jun 12 2002

So what's stopping you? http://www.smilingatstrangers.com
[angel, Jun 13 2002, last modified Oct 17 2004]

Random acts of kindness http://www.actsofkindness.org/
[reensure, Jun 13 2002]

You may care to check this first. http://www.halfbake...assurance_20gesture
[angel, Jun 14 2002, last modified Oct 17 2004]


       Is this an extract from a Thomas Dylon novel?
[ sctld ], Jun 12 2002

       so what does bread and butter ice cream taste like? (and did you *really* eat dessert after all that lamb?)
runforrestrun, Jun 12 2002

       No [sctld], its a simple description of the events of last weekend which was intended to be a short flying holiday but the weather was against it. The characters and events depicted are absolutely genuine.
[RForestR] I did really eat dessert as well but I had a short break for a couple more pints of Spitfire first. The bread and butter ice cream is very much to my taste but some might find it a bit woolly. You get a curiously comforting malty background flavour and slightly muffly gritty texture with a creamy rich component which is a real contrast. I tend to rate food on the basis of how far I would cycle for it, this was very good as a change but really only gets two miles (thats 4 round trip)
IvanIdea, Jun 12 2002

       Y'all need to move down here to the South (i.e., the southeastern U.S.), where smiling at strangers is commonplace. As are waving at strangers one passes in automobiles (but mostly only on lesser-traveled country roads), and waitresses/hairstylists/checkout attendants, etc. who call strangers "honey" or "darlin'."
beauxeault, Jun 12 2002

       So at this dot com it's, "Smile and the world wide web smiles with you, frown and you frown offline."
FarmerJohn, Jun 12 2002

       Good one, Ivan. I'm definitely of the 'speaking to strangers' persuasion myself.
DrBob, Jun 12 2002

       I'm all for this. I am a notorious smiler myself, living in a city of friendly and receptive people who normally react well to that sort of thing. It'd catch on like wildfire, here. I doubt, however, that you'd get a warm response to this in the leave-me-alone suburbs of the U.S.   

       (Ugh, I grew up in one of those places, and it was awful: people would get into their cars in the morning, drive to work, drive from work to wherever they bought food for the evening, and drive home. The end result of this hermetically-sealed routine was a life in which you eventually ended up speaking only to people who lived in your house with you. Nobody smiled, nobody said hello; everyone was invisible, inviolable, too busy on his or her own Habitrail to notice anyone else.)   

       Here, I and my fellow smilers (and we are legion) are lucky: we've got a nice climate, the happy dilemma of too many people living too close together in too many apartment buildings, a comforting mix of competing loud cultures, and a large number of fellow-citizens who are obviously mentally ill, and quite voluble. Once a street person has approached you with news of fourteen galaxies having lined up in a manner that threatens the President of the United States, you tend to be much more responsive to an innocent, friendly, apparently sane smiler.   

       Croissant, Ivan. Next time you're dining in San Francisco, come sit with me. You're welcome to a bite of anything I'm having.   

       You won't even need to bring your own spoon.
1percent, Jun 13 2002

       Ah, bliss. I can't say where it happens, not exactly. A person's environment teaches her a certain amount about how to be; she decides the rest. In my case, my home suburb taught me to be one way (wary, private), and my college years overseas taught me to be another (friendly, trusting but not stupid). I preferred being the latter to the former. All I had to do, at that point, was find a place where I could be the way I want to be without getting killed. San Francisco is that place.   

       I was once walking along a downtown sidewalk, having just visited a candy store (Sweet Factory?). I was eating candy out of my little blue bag, and a vagrant sitting against a wall saw me.   

       "Oooohh, you have candy!" he said, with a smile.   

       It was a nice day, I can never eat all of anything I've bought anyway, and I thought, why not? -- so I crossed the sidewalk and held out the bag to the guy. He took some candy, and smiled at me, and I smiled at him, and started along my merry way again.   

       Minutes later at the intersection, I heard this accusing voice, just behind my left ear. "You let that man touch your food," it hissed.   

       I turned around to see this frowsy woman, overlarge hair and sunglasses, overdone jewelry, staring at me as if I -- I, not this bubblehead with the pink glittery snake crawling up her jacket! -- were nuts.   

       I didn't know what to say. I mean, what CAN you say? 'Damn right I did'? 'I'd rather live like this than die like you'? 'I'm sorry, you must be from Walnut Creek*'?   

       But what I said was -- again, holding out the bag -- "Yeah. Want some?" She gave me a look of horror, and scuttled off. It was great.   

       As far as I'm concerned, you either live with the fear or you live with the people. No one can convince me that the threat of getting mugged or killed or contaminated is equal to what I'd miss if I wasn't out there where it's possible. And frankly, if it does come down to either Miss Pink-Snake-Wearing Clairol Nice & Easy Number 201, or the guy on the street, I'll take the guy on the street.   

       But that's just me.   

       (*My apologies to anyone who actually does live in Walnut Creek. Really: heartfelt, sincere apologies, because that place SUCKS.)
1percent, Jun 13 2002

       //Around here you go talking to strangers, you end up not good.//   

       Just over a month ago, I started talking to strangers around here. It's been a good five weeks: a little bumpy here and there, but generally really good. Just wanted to say thanks, everyone.   

       <smiles widely at one and all>
yamahito, Jun 13 2002

       I have to say that one of the things that tickles me about living in London is the interaction between strangers in public places. Most interactions I have with strangers (and I have to say it happens quite regularly – I find this to be quite a friendly city) are simply sharing a joke if something unusual happens nearby, giving directions to people, or chatting with fellow drunkards on the tube. The best example I’ve seen recently of people ‘crossing the line’ to communicate was on a bus. The bus driver took a wrong turn and after some shouts of protest he turned round and asked for help admitting it was his first day. Right away a couple of people jumped off the bus and guided him through a three-point turn (no mean feat in a bus on the Fulham Road), while other passengers on the bus went from not talking to each other at all to laughing and joking with each other. When the bus was back on track, the bus driver got a huge cheer and round of applause. It was a great moment.
stupop, Jun 13 2002

       blissmiss, you can always get more with a gun and a smile than you can with just a smile.
So you see, not only does one not have to have a gun in their pocket in order to appear to be glad to see someone, they don't need to have a *ahem* - they can be male or female - they just need to relax their facial muscles. Only Seventeen muscles are needed to make you smile, where as you need forty-three muscles to frown.
I smile less than I used to, and am aware of it - reality has a way of doing that as well as societies mores and lesses. When I realize I'm being stone-faced because of the "present tension", I think of past glories and those which the future holds in store for me.
If others have a problem with you smiling - then t_h_e_y have a problem. Life is short.
thumbwax, Jun 13 2002

       %, your observations on Walnut Creek explain a lot. My wife is from there.   

       I love the intent of this idea, but I think there's a state of mind required to achieve this. I am envious of those of you - Ivan, % - who have reached this plane of existence. I'd love to be there.   

       My problem is not one of fear, it's one of interest. I live in an area where it's common to say "Hi" to passers-by while out strolling, so that's not the problem. I regrettably admit that I find myself not particularly interested in interacting with others around me in those sorts of situations.   

       If the scenario calls for obvious chatter, I'm all for it. But otherwise I tend to be lost in my own thoughts. The really sad part is that when I encounter such persons as yourselves, who attempt to strike up conversations with me, I get annoyed and try to subtly convey the point that I'd rather not talk, thanks just the same.   

       I don't like this about myself at all.   

       (Added to 'wax): It's not a permission problem. I have no qualms about speaking with strangers, none at all. I'm reasonably outgoing and confident. I have no fear of public speaking, etc. What I lack is the interest in it.
waugsqueke, Jun 13 2002

       Things don't change, People do.
It's based on Permission, so Give it to yourself.
You'll be Glad you did, and you'll have Something to smile about
The sun is rising - Good Night
thumbwax, Jun 13 2002

       //Then, randomly, the participants would be connected to one another from all over the planet for a period of say 4 seconds each. Just enough time to smile//   

       Also just enough time to pull a mooner, flip the bird, snarl, kill a chicken, ejaculate or any number of similar things that the hordes of trolls attracted to this troll's paradise would be doing.
stupop, Jun 13 2002

       ¯angel, that link is not working, I've posted an alternative link for those dry-of-sap folk who need their ribs cracked in a big bear hug.
reensure, Jun 13 2002

       Why thank you, jurist. "You're an asshole, but at least you're the genuine article." Well, I wouldn't want people to get the wrong idea.
waugsqueke, Jun 13 2002

       [reensure]: I know it's not working; [Ivan] said //I propose a website to be called "smilingatstrangers.com"//. I'm letting him know that the domain is available.
angel, Jun 13 2002

       I'm maybe in the same position as waugsqueke and possibly blissmiss, unlikely as that seems. I think this is an excellent idea, and people should smile at each other and stuff, it's just that I don't really converse with strangers or slight acquaintances, through a combination of not really having anything to say, not really getting much out of casual conversations, having rather specialised interests, etc.   

       A while ago I posted the idea to ask people their deepest fears rather than about the weather. Most small-talk-type conversations bore me. As a consequence I'm not very good at them, but equally I see little point in trading platitudes. I guess it's nice to be nice and all that, but I'd rather spend my time spinning complex webs of fantasy, obscure references, shared obsessions and silly games with close friends, than spend time chatting about sport, politics, television or the weather with J. Random Public just on the offchance that we might both have something in common. Maybe this is a flaw in me, probably is. But, tough.
pottedstu, Jun 13 2002

       Maybe we should all get together and not talk to each other.
waugsqueke, Jun 13 2002

       ¿A loan convention? (8) Back to work.
reensure, Jun 13 2002

       1percent, ((((applause)))) for articulating something that's been nagging me at the edge of my consciousness for some time, and which began to surface in the discussion about planned cities and car-free environments. I think whether you're naturally gregarious or prefer your own company to idle chit-chat, life is still enriched by not being insulated from real people, real smells, real tactile experiences, chance occurrences, real sunshine and rain, etc. I think you're right that far too many Americans in particular (myself included, perhaps) pay far more in lost richness of life than they ever receive in return in terms of real security.
beauxeault, Jun 13 2002

       I agree with pottedstu about the mindless platitudes thing but even that can be turned into top class entertainment. I particularly enjoy giving a complete medical analysis of my condition (either real or made up) whenever anyone starts a conversation with "How are you?".
DrBob, Jun 13 2002

       [1%] Thank you for the invitation, don't be surprised when I take you up on it, I love San Francisco, if I had to live in a city I think that would be my choice.
And [Jurist] thank you, I am not sure where you are but I had a New Year celebration in San Diego, lovely place, the most amazing cigar stores you ever saw.

I am not big on prattle myself, I am not suggesting wandering round with a lot of false bonhomie greeting everyone in sight and I don't do this (unless I am on a real high). I particularly liked [potted stu's]idea as an unexpected conversation opener which would immediately free you from banality.
I am talking about making real human connections with people who are sharing a common experience with you. It might be a situation such as the bus incident [stupop] describes, or it might be a very small moment of time when you make eye contact with a smile and a connection is made, communication occurs without words, and at this point you know whether a conversation is going to be possible, desirable whatever, just from that moment of empathy people will announce themselves. If it does that is fine but even if it doesn't there is a great deal of reward in just having made that human connection.
[Waugs] Anybody who you would enjoy talking to is also going to be sensible enough to leave it at that and not persist with chat if it is clear that you don't welcome it.

       [potted]The only difference between your friends and the other 99.99999999999999% of people on the planet is that you havn't met them yet. And again I agree with you the small talk and endorse your idea to cut through that.   

       [blissy] Smilefest? that would annoy anyone, short moments of shared contact shouldn't produce that result unless you have an incredibly short fuse. How to start? Well don't choose any one carrying a bloodied axe or a begging bowl initially. Just lift your head off the pavement and make yourself aware of the people around you. The rest will happen naturally, open yourself to empathy with your fellow human beings. If they are not nice they won't be able to do this and won't bother you.
IvanIdea, Jun 13 2002

       [Blissy]I think I must visit the East Coast, I have never been perhaps this is the reason why. If I do I'll give you a call and we'll spend a happy afternoon frightening people.
[DrBob] Yes I like that one too, sorts the sheep from the goats
"How are you?"
"Well I have a terrible rash on my penis, I've been charged with a murder I didn't commit ad my ex-wife has just won custody of the dog, but fine otherwise thanks"
IvanIdea, Jun 13 2002

       Well, I guess I’ll get my two cents in. Coming from a youth spent in the Midwest, I continued to be open to strangers a while in NYC until I noticed that the only ones that responded or initiated contact were either interested in my bod or wanted to sell me drugs.   

       Yesterday I was sitting on the bus in silence beside a cute lady. A bug started flying around us and landed in her grocery bag. We exchanged a few words (very unusual in Sweden) as she fished the bug out onto the floor and it came crawling up again. When it came to the windowsill in danger of falling in the bag again, I whacked it a couple times with my magazine. After a minute its legs started jerking and it slid closer to the edge. I made the Freudian slip of saying, “It looks like he wants to go home with you,” and then it was real quiet for the rest of the trip.
FarmerJohn, Jun 13 2002

       //A while ago I posted the idea to ask people their deepest fears rather than about the weather. //   

       [pottedstu], I'm going to find that idea of yours and post to it. I've been dying to talk about what's scaring me lately, but everyone else seems to be "over it", so I've shut up till now. You asked, I'll tell.   

       Thanks to [stupop], for a lovely story about a great city. I learned my smiling ways at university in England; from London to Giggleswick and everywhere in between, people there seem to understand the value (and accidental fun) of public life.   

       Here in the U.S., it's often individuals' own preponderance of "stuff" that prevents them from taking part in the ebb and flow of community life. Ours is a big country, and most of us (myself excepted) have cars: why, people ask, would you walk or take a bus when you can drive and be comfortable? And those of us who do very well financially tend to shut themselves away in large homes -- first, because they can, and second, because it's MY stuff, not yours, ergo I must protect it from you.   

       This is not a sustainable system. We're wrecking the planet, for one thing; and for another, our "stuff" really doesn't protect us. Witness the recent incident in Utah, where an adolescent girl was snatched from the bedroom of her parents' $7-million house.   

       I think that those who refuse to participate in the dangerous outside world do so at their peril. One day, it may follow them home ...
1percent, Jun 13 2002

       Regarding the friendliness of the citizens of Manhattan, I offer this Al Pacino New Yorker light bulb joke.   

       Q. How many New Yorkers does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A. One, you ASSHOLE!

       I'm more than happy to talk to strangers if there's a point behind the discussion. But "looks like rain?" type of conversations are just pointless.   

       I guess it depends on the sort of person you are. Ivan, you sound like a gregarious life-loving sort with many friends who enjoys being in their company, the loudest one laughing at social occasions. I'm guess I'm just not that sort of person. At the very rare social occasions I do attend, I'll generally drift off into a corner having a one-on-one discussion with someone, or stand and people-watch. I do not go out much, and when I do, I greatly prefer to go out with one person than a group. I rarely have friends over.   

       You see smiling and engaging in conversation with a stranger as an opportunity to have "short moments of shared contact" as you put it, or "making real human connections with people who are sharing a common experience with you." There's nothing appealing about that to me.   

       // [Waugs] Anybody who you would enjoy talking to is also going to be sensible enough to leave it at that and not persist with chat if it is clear that you don't welcome it. //   

       I guess I just don't see this as a loss.
waugsqueke, Jun 13 2002

       A fine idea, if it gets people to stop smiling at me. Apparently I look very lonely and as if I'm dying to talk to someone about the contents of my shopping carriage, my clothes, the weather, other people in the store. I can't get away from the chatty. Even if I stick my nose in a book (ouch!), they're yakking away. I appreciate that they're trying to be friendly, and it's sweet, but sometimes I don't feel like discussing my purchases!!   

       Ah ... venting. I feel bettter.
quacksalve, Jun 13 2002

       Is this the Bear Hotel in the Black Mountains near Methyr Tydfil.   

       Did you try out the sheep before hand with your wellington boots on ?
English Pete, Jun 13 2002

       [Waugs] I respect your position absolutely.
I would however like to dispel the idea that I find chattering attractive. I do not. In fact one of the main reasons I allowed myself to fall in love with Mrs Ivan the second is that on one of our very early dates which involved a seven hour drive to Scotland we managed to reduce the chatter to just three words. One was chocolate, one was petrol and I forget the other. We managed to keep each other company without talking but with eye contact and facial expression. I had previously met only one other woman who could do this.
I can't resist telling you the second reason for my total adoration of MrsIvan. On this journey we had taken my tiny jack russell bitch puppy, called Em, (a compositors joke), who was sitting on her lap. I was driving a V12 XJS, cherry red with magnolia connolly hide interior. I had pulled over in Cumbria for a rest stop, leaned over and lifted Em to give her a run, unfortunately I was a little late and the puppy started peeing like a fountain as soon as I lifted her. Well, faced with the sullying of the superb interior of this exquisite machine I have to admit that I directed the stream into Mrs Ivans lap. There was a long pause but no remonstration, good heavens she understood the validity of the decision. OK she didn't like it but evidently accepted the inevitability of the result, there were no words exchanged. That moment bound me to her, I hope for ever.
You are a little bit out with your analysis of my character, yes I can do the life and soul bit, but I work far better on a one on one situation, like yourself.
IvanIdea, Jun 13 2002

in that order
IvanIdea, Jun 13 2002

       Did not mean to insult you. Just jealous you were drinking Spitfire. I am getting sick of Lager in France.
English Pete, Jun 13 2002

       No offence taken at all, I was going to do the joke about the epaulettes and wellies because I like to to kiss them first but thought better of it.
IvanIdea, Jun 13 2002

       I agree with what [waugsqueke] and [pottedstu] are saying about inane small talk full of platitudes, but it seems to me that that kind of chatter is more likely to happen with people that you know but rarely speak to such as neighbours or remote colleagues. I find more freedom when dealing with complete strangers that you need never see again. Because there is no pressure to communicate, platitudes tend to get bypassed as they aren't necessary. I don't go round beaming at people and starting conversations with everyone, but occasionally I'll pull faces at someone on the next train, or comment on something interesting or funny that's happening nearby to someone standing next to me waiting to cross the road. People tend to respond well.
stupop, Jun 14 2002

       I've just this moment realised what the reason for the silent journey was. I thought she was just quiet and self sufficient.
IvanIdea, Jun 14 2002

       IvanIdea - Your story reminds me of this advice I once heard for girls on a first date: "If you want to find out where your man's values lie, throw up in his car."   

       as for this idea: there are some great ideas that, when they move online are suddenly goofy. I think it would be a horrible idea to take a genuine, friendly act, and make it so impersonal and meaningless. taste my ice cream if you like, but if you're going to smile at me . . . mean it or leave me alone.
efarns, Jun 15 2002

       Some of my favorite memories involve bizarre encounters with complete strangers.
-While walking into a Media Play, I had a man stop me and teach me how to "walk like yo shit don't stank."
-While skat(eboard)ing downtown at around 2 in the morning, a drunken black vagrant with a misshapen skull angrily told me that the people across the street were treating him "like a child with a toy." I asked him if he wanted to skate and he suddenly changed tone, becoming extremely friendly. "My son used to skateboard, but then he joined the Marines four years ago," he said, stumbling drunkly over each word.
"How old is he now?" I asked; small talk, yes, but I was interested.
"Nineteen." Drunken stupidness or poor math?
-During a TRAX (Utah's newest Mass Transit trains) ride downtown when the Olympics were in full effect, an older man who obviously hadn't showered or shaved for a few days muscled his way into our conversation about--well, whatever we were talking about--and quickly rerouted it to Venereal Disease. A sweet blonde girl in her early twenties who definitely should not have been alone was sitting across from him, and he held nothing back. "My wife asked me where I got the VD from. Illinois I said! HAHAHAHAHA!" Young blonde smiles nervously and looks out window. God, what I'd have given for a video camera.

As far as a website with webcam goes, I don't care. But as far as strangers breaking the norm with completely abnormal conversations, croissant.
AfroAssault, Jun 16 2002


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