Smiling at Strangers

Smiling at Strangers

Written by Ade

Whilst waiting for the tube at Moorgate station in London, last Thursday, I noticed a man on the other side of the platform ask a woman for directions. He was carrying some luggage, clearly looked flustered and appeared to have been running, as he seemed out of breath. I noticed as the woman shrugged her shoulders and hardly looked at him as she mouthed what looked like ‘I don’t know’. He then turned to his right and asked another couple who stood nearby. Their response was completely different and they appeared to subsequently engage him in conversation whilst talking him through a tube map. I could not help but wonder why one person would chose to engage with a stranger, whilst another would do the opposite.

In my wondering about this moment at Moorgate, I could not help but recollect a conversation I had with a friend about 20 years ago. My friend was visiting London from Lagos and on this particular day we had gone into the West End to do some shopping. As we navigated London Transport, I noticed that he said ‘good afternoon’ to everyone that dared look or smile at him.  About two hours into our journey, I turned to him and said something along the lines ‘there is no need to do that, in London you do not greet strangers’ - Yes, I shudder now as I recollect what I had said. I guess in the middle of growing up, like so many people, I had been taught that phrase – “don’t talk to strangers".

As I recollect the incidents from last week and 20 years ago, I am reminded that there comes a time when the things we learnt in the past are no longer relevant in our current lives. At such a point, we need to let go of that old behaviour, pattern or lesson and allow room for new experiences and adventures. So for example, whilst the phrase “don’t talk to strangers” might have been appropriate in childhood, “smile at strangers” might be the more appropriate equivalent in adulthood.

We are at a stage in our civilization, where through the wonders of social media we are constantly connecting virtually with those we know and do not know. If we are able to smile at strangers online, then we should also give it a try when we see them across a platform, in an elevator or the supermarket. Yes, you might feel self-conscious the first time you try it, but afterwards you’ll get to discover that smiling is indeed contagious.

Categorised Under: Inspiration, General Interest,


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by Nadia Evans on 10th February 2010

So true Ade, if we just took time to acknowledge others without suspicion and smile more maybe there would be less hostlity around.

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by Charles D on 11th February 2010

Nice post Ade! I totally agree and try to practice it whenever some who isn't looking at the floor walks past :)

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by Luke Carter on 14th February 2010

So true. We often complain how 'cold' London can be. I'm going to try and do my bit - be the change.

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by Marta on 25th February 2010

A friend of mine told me how this changed when you had a baby. You could suddenly see lots of people smiling at him/her and then at you. Why do we do that just with babies and not with the rest? Great to see that you have the time to share your thoughts!

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by Hein on 27th February 2010

Why not smile and Greet Every morning as à welcome stranger, waiting to be explored?

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by Ade on 27th February 2010

Luv it! Smiling and greeting every morning as a welcomed stranger! Thanks Hein.

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by Leena on 4th May 2010

So true. One day during my walk a beautiful red haired young girl was running and waved with her left hand at a by passer "hello" with her right hand at me "hello" and then with her both hands "hello everyone". She was full of energy that radiated from her. I remember saying to myself "What a lovely young person'. Usually on my daily walks everyone simes and waves at each other. It makes a difference. Ade, you are making a difference by your writings/blogs

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