Day 3 of Shredded Comfort
Also check out alternate Jesse give out what I first considered giving out. Hint: it definitely aint candy.
Talking to strangers is one of those things I am both very comfortable and very nervous about. I can talk about nothing with strangers just fine. Or but into a conversation two people are having at a bus stop, usually with good results. Or at least, I think they’re good. I’ve never been maced. But talking to strangers about actual things –a vital element in the cold calling I’ve eventually going to have to do — terrifies me as much as the next person. Certainly a lot of these upcoming challenges over the next few weeks are going to involve awkward interactions with strangers. But I wanted to easy into it, at least a little.
So I bought a bag of candy and walked around downtown Burien giving it away. Mostly I went into shops, but I also offered my caramels to people on the street. The rule I set was that I was not going to avoid anyone who looked “sketchy,” and that I was going to go until either all my candy was gone or an hour had passed. If I was unilaterally rejected I didn’t want to spend all day. Here is what I observed, phrased as if they are sweeping truths I learned from my single day’s experiment.
- Most people say no.
Fairly obvious, I suppose. My hit rate was something like 10%.
- Most people take an apparent random act of kindness at face value.
I admit this surprised me a little. I wasn’t sure how receptive people would be. Most people rejected my offer, but smiled with genuine surprised warmth, and thanked me sincerely as if I was doing something really special. I suppose it’s reasonably expensive candy. I wonder if I would have gotten more hostility with Starburst?
- Even if they have kids.
People with kids did say no in a slightly more defensive way by and large, but they didn’t look at me like I was going to still their children.
- People in shops are more receptive than people on the street.
I was nervous about going inside the stores. I thought I’d get “stop wasting my time” and “stop harassing my customers.” I think most people in retail are happy to have a fun, unusual break in their routine. I know I felt that way when I was in retail.
- Except when they’re not.
The two most hostile responses I got were from people in shops. One of them was a guy in an upholstery story who looked at me like I’d just asked him for a kidney. The other was from a man in a reflexology clinic. He was sitting lotus style when I came in, and hopped to his feet. I think it was a slow day and he was disappointed to have a candy-hawker rather than a client. I also passed a woman outside said clinic doing some weird variant on crunches with a great deal of intensity. I didn’t interrupt her.
- People don’t like to be interrupted when in transit.
People walking through parking lots on their way to places want to get places. They don’t want to stop and deal with the candy guy. I asked a few people in the middle of crosswalks, and they barely spoke to me. The only exception seemed to be people getting out of their cars to go into stores. Those people seemed like they were less in a hurry.
- People don’t like being talked to in their cars.
I think they believe no one can see them.
- Black people are nicer than everyone else.
I may have just phrased it that way to be controversial. The 4 nicest, warmest people I ran into, who made me feel really good about doing this even though generosity really wasn’t my motivation, were black. I’m not really trying to make a larger point here. The sample size is too small to be significant. I just thought it was a funny bullet point. And the friendliest guy I talked to was also one of the few who took two pieces.
- People who look hungry will take free food.
Everyone who had that “homeless” look — and I know it’s a fallacy to assume they actually were all homeless –all took some candy. Without exception.
- It was easy.
Hopefully this will be a theme of this entire 30 day exercise. It wasn’t effortless. I did spend the whole time slightly anxious. But I did it. And I could have kept going. I did cheat a little. I didn’t set up a rule that said I had to go into every business I passed. I wish I had. So I avoided a few, including chickening out about going into the car service place that is currently working on my car. That felt awkward. But overall I think I could have done something a lot more difficult and embarrassing. I’ll know for sure soon enough.
- The bus stop.
An hour went by and I still had about 12 of the 28 pieces of caramel left. So I headed back to the bus stop to go home. I knew my challenge was technically over, but I decided that it felt more awkward in front of a larger group (going around the laundromat was the worst part, and one of the only times anyone asked why I was doing this) so I would try it at the bus stop. It was effortless. I could have given the whole bag away in 10 minutes had I started there. I don’t know why, although there are all sorts of obvious guesses. I stopped when I had 3 left because I decided I wanted some caramel to myself, dammit. It’s delicious!
- If you shaved your head yesterday, don’t walk around in the hot sun for several hours without wearing a hat or using sunscreen. Sunburn hurts.