Smile At A Stranger (Issue 852)

In which we are reminded that, sometimes, we just have to let prospects go, smile, and look for the next one.  

I must have been off my game when I started my walk this morning. As I left the house, I decided to play “smile at a stranger,” a game in which I score points for every stranger I pass (walking the opposite direction) from whom I can elicit a smile or other friendly acknowledgement. I like this game for two reasons: One, how it affects the people I pass – at least SOMEONE said good morning to them today!  And, two, how it affects me.

The game rules: Maintain walking stride, no outsized motions that would scare people, make eye contact, smile, say “good morning, ” and look for a nod, wink, smile, wave, or “good morning” in return.

This morning, on the outbound leg, walking west on busy Concord Avenue, I got two eye contacts but no smiles or acknowledgments from the first ten people I passed. That’s a little low for me.

Thirty minutes later, walking east on quiet Brattle Street, I was hitting “two smiles” for every three attempts, an excellent percentage.

I’d agree with you if you said, “Nick, this is a stupid game and you need to get out a bit more,” and yet… the game is a provocative “warm up for the week”.  It reminds me:

  • Pick your spots – Lower traffic, smaller venues (in this game, that means side streets, small parks, lesser traveled sidewalks) work better than busy venues where there are lots of people, many distractions, and competition.
  • Attracting peoples’ attention is the key. A little motion or a shiny object (in my case, a small wave) goes a long way to attracting the attention of people who are disengaged or otherwise engaged as they walk.
  • Ya gotta be quick when there’s an opening. (Openings are brief, in this game, less than a second.)
  • You can’t sustain the game through the entire walk if you’re not having fun with it.
  • Not everybody will smile back…. don’t worry about it, keep playing. Smile at the next person.

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