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Smiling at strangers

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HalfFull

I just started watching a youtube clip on English attitudes to Germany by an ex-patriot living over there.

She commented that she was amazed that nobody smiles at strangers in the street. I'm amazed at NT confidence sometimes.

Its weird, because my mum once told me that she does sometimes smile at a stranger if they inadvertently make eye contact. I try my level best not to look at strangers whatsoever unless I have to speak to them, and even then its hard. To actually smile at a stranger, I feel would be really scary unless initial introductions have been made. It would be kind of the done thing if you see someone in a bar who you'd like to take on a date, but that itself is a scary scenario, even with alcohol involved.

How do you all feel about this? Do you smile at strangers, or is it just an alien concept?

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Harrow

I smile at stranger, nearly anyone passes me on the street I greet. I don't always feel comfortable doing it, but its how I was brought up. 

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Ben

85% of my friend-base is comprised of stangers. It's not unusual for me to be sitting in a park having a smoke, and then just casually sparking up conversation with the next person who sits by me. Everyone is human just like me, so I just act human and natural with everyone I meet. It's one of my Aspie traits - it's logic and common sense based. 

Though I don't smile, I do understand that it's simply a social lubricant for some people, so I don't think too much about it. What I don't understand though is flirtation between people who aren't (and won't ever be) romantically involved with each other. I mean, why? But that could be the Christian in me I guess... 

 

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Asgardian

No, definitely not. Eye contact makes me feel uncomfortable, let alone smiling at strangers.

Edited by Asgardian
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Nesf

No, I have social anxiety and I don't make eye contact with or speak to strangers unless I have good reason to. I keep myself to myself.

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Sanctuary

I don't smile at strangers in the street and aim to maintain a neutral face. Any other kind of face can be misinterpreted and smiling at someone you don't know can disconcert them - this may be particularly so if a man smiles at a woman he doesn't know. There may be exceptions if something has happened around you which gives good reason for smiling. One example - which happens to me occasionally but probably all of us at some time - is the awkwardness when trying to avoid someone on the same path walking towards you and the confusion that results when both of you keep dodging in the same direction. That sort of almost-comical confusion invites a smile from both involved.

Sometimes I pass someone on the street who doesn't have a neutral or smiley expression but looks grim-faced, almost angry - this is very disconcerting! Other people just look very intense - perhaps a common expression for those with AS but some neurotypicals as well. Such faces may not reflect that person's feelings at all and they will usually be unaware of how they appear. The faces people show to strangers are not generally consciously-chosen but they can still leave big impressions.

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HalfFull
18 hours ago, Harrow said:

I smile at stranger, nearly anyone passes me on the street I greet. I don't always feel comfortable doing it, but its how I was brought up. 

Do you live somewhere small? I've always been in big towns and people certainly don't say hello to strangers unless its a quiet street.

Had I been brought up to at least smile at most passers by, it would have been very painful. I always had problems with the old "Look at me when I'm talking to you". It made me feel really awkward and making eye contact after that person had just told me to was very awkward and embarrassing. Nowadays, I can do the eye contact bit provided that the other person is speaking, but as soon as I'm speaking, I can't do much eye contact because I see their eyes burning into me and this distracts me to the point that I have to look into the corner of the room to find my words.

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Miss Chief

I do smile at people if they look right at me... it's almost a nervous thing, like I'm fine, just move along although I suppose there is an element of politeness too but by and large I only do it if they look right at me, mostly I try to avoid eye contact and therefore don't need to smile ;) 

Like @Ben I end up in conversations with complete strangers a lot although unlike him I categorically do not initiate, people just always talk to me... it stresses me out about going out, I know it's going to happen and I don't want it to (like @Nesf I have social anxiety), don't get me wrong, I manage fine when it does happen (and again like Ben I've even made some friends that way) but I would prefer people just ignored me or left me alone, this isn't people hitting on me either (that's a whole other issue), this is just random people who are near me. It's even worse in some places like pubs, cafes, restaurants (when I used to work away if I was on my own I would go out for a meal on my own... it's shocking how many people from neighbouring tables would try and engage me in conversation while I was reading/eating) or buses & trains (they are so bad I hate using public transport), sometimes people tell me what I can only assume are quite secret things. Hell sometimes people that are walking in the same direction along the street have stopped and started walking along with me to have a conversation. This really bothers me... I don't see this kind of thing happening to other people so why does it keep happening to me? People tell me I have a trustworthy face but I don't really know what that means or how to change it (if it can be changed), I usually have a neutral expression on my face if I'm not actively doing something (like listening to someone or reading something, apparently when I do those things I makes faces that people misinterpret as anger or irritation). That's another things, I've tried listening to music with headphones and reading a book while out and STILL people start talking to me... I mean WTAF can't they tell I am otherwise engaged?

Edited by Miss Chief
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Nesf

@Miss Chief it happens to me, too, and when I was younger, sometimes I got a lot of unwanted attention from guys wanting to chat me up, thankfully that's stopped now. I wear headphones too and it helps, but people still do it. It wouldn't annoy me so much if there was a purpose behind it, that they had something to say, but often they don't and just seem to be talking for the sake of talking - perhaps they are just lonely or something. The worst is when people talk to me to tell me to do something, or what I should be doing, the last thing I need is to be bossed about or criticised by strangers. I'm usually polite to people, but if that's the reason they talk to me, to boss me around and tell me what to do, I get irritated and snap - they should just mind their own business.

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Miss Chief
1 hour ago, Nesf said:

@Miss Chief it happens to me, too, and when I was younger, sometimes I got a lot of unwanted attention from guys wanting to chat me up, thankfully that's stopped now. I wear headphones too and it helps, but people still do it. It wouldn't annoy me so much if there was a purpose behind it, that they had something to say, but often they don't and just seem to be talking for the sake of talking - perhaps they are just lonely or something. The worst is when people talk to me to tell me to do something, or what I should be doing, the last thing I need is to be bossed about or criticised by strangers. I'm usually polite to people, but if that's the reason they talk to me, to boss me around and tell me what to do, I get irritated and snap - they should just mind their own business.

Getting hit on is a separate issue, I kind of deal with that a bit better, I am more confident handling that, I suspect it is because I mostly hang out with men and so I am more used to dealing with men, it was an issue when I was younger cause I didn't always pick up on the fact they were hitting on me until I was in an awkward situation and it would be harder to get out of whatever I had innocently agreed to (like going for a drink and me assuming he means as friends). I got there in the end and now I am pretty confident handling that kind of situation, I suppose it's a compliment really, although I still don't notice until it's too late if a woman hits on me, fortunately that happens less often ;) 

People don't usually boss me around, but if someone pissed me off I would be rude too, I don't see why I should be polite if they're not going to be ;) Having said that sometimes people think I am being rude/aggressive when I have no intention of being so, although this doesn't tend to be in casual conversation, it's usually if I am talking to a shop assistant/receptionist/manager type situation, I don't mean to be offensive but I am sometimes perceived that way.

My mum (she isn't on the spectrum) told me that something similar happened to her recently and a person from a nearby table who was alone butted into her conversation with her friend at a cafe, he was going on about things like Brexit and immigration and being quite offensive/racist and she said she was just agreeing with him cause she didn't want to talk to him and she was scared she might 'set him off' if she disagreed with him... I wouldn't have done that in that situation, I would have debated them and tried to broaden their point of view but even if they weren't open to an alternative view, I wouldn't have agreed with something I think is reprehensible, I'm not saying I would escalate the conversation into an argument but I would be firm that it isn't something I agree with. Reason I mention that is cause while I get anxious about this kind of thing I am still assertive when I'm in the situation, I don't know why I get anxious about it when nothing bad has ever happened but I do, I DREAD going on buses (buses are definitely worse than trains too).

Generally people just chat to me about all kinds of random stuff from the inane, current affairs/politics all the way to what seem to be big problems they're having, I always talk back and I'm polite unless they give me reason not to be but I just don't know why a random stranger will just start talking to me about anything, I mean of all the people they could chose why is it always me? 

Anyway, I think I have kind of taken us a bit off topic, it was just that the smiling at strangers triggered my mind in this direction since it's kind of similar and I have sometimes wondered if me smiling at someone gives them a kind of permission, I can tell when people are watching me so if I look at the person watching me and there's eye contact I might smile, however, sometimes people strike up conversations with me when I haven't even looked at the person, so it definitely isn't always that. ;) 

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Sanctuary

Scarcely ever do I have any interaction with strangers of the kinds mentioned above. Even in shops where I am a habitual customer the encounter is a very brief business-like affair with rarely the more social element I see with some regulars. It is possible there are differences in people's faces and demeanours which encourage or discourage "stranger interaction". Smiling / not smiling may play a part but there are many other factors. It's probably difficult to identify what these differences are and they're not necessarily the same as exuding "friendliness / unfriendliness". Perhaps it is an intensity that some people project (often unwittingly) or an air which suggests "not open for interaction" or "strictly business".

Edited by Sanctuary
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Gone away

I don't smile much so its a major effort to smile at passers by ... I have tried it as its the logical thing to do,  but it doesn't feel right.  I tend to read too deeply into interactions and get it wrong quite a bit ... so I don't seek meaningful relationships anymore as nobody seems to want anything greater than extremely superficial interaction ... which is not comfortable for any prolonged period as I will progress the conversation too rapidly and then they feel uncomfortable.
Sometimes I will raise eyebrows or attempt a nod if eye contact is made with passers by ... at least thats what I think I'm doing ... no idea what it looks like.
Having said that ... most things are  paradoxical with me ... terms and conditions  subject to change etc.

Edited by Gone home
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HalfFull

Its very rare that strangers stop to talk to me. I think its because I avoid eye contact so much, and if I'm on a table seat on a train, I'll look out of the window rather than directly in the direction of the person sat opposite. In fact if someone pleasant enough started up a conversation on a train I'd be happy to chat with them, and sometimes I can even be chatty, but I never initiate and would also have the fear that if I did, and they weren't my cup of tea or I didn't want to chat the whole journey, that I'd be trapped in a conversation that I don't want to have.

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Sanctuary

One exception I'd mention - and I imagine this is common for many of us - is smiling, thanking or acknowledging strangers who behave in a considerate, helpful or friendly way such as by making space for you to pass on a narrow path or holding a door open. I hope for the same thing if I do the same for others. Sometimes out walking a stranger will say hello or make a brief comment (often about the weather) and it's polite to say hello or reply in turn. It's almost always older people who offer this sort of greeting.

10 hours ago, HalfFull said:

Its very rare that strangers stop to talk to me. I think its because I avoid eye contact so much, and if I'm on a table seat on a train, I'll look out of the window rather than directly in the direction of the person sat opposite. In fact if someone pleasant enough started up a conversation on a train I'd be happy to chat with them, and sometimes I can even be chatty, but I never initiate and would also have the fear that if I did, and they weren't my cup of tea or I didn't want to chat the whole journey, that I'd be trapped in a conversation that I don't want to have.

My experience is similar. I don't initiate an interaction but will respond if the other person initiates one and often these exchanges can be quite pleasant. I'm reluctant to start an interaction myself as I'm not sure if the other person wants to do so. Even if they're not doing anything at the time they may be wrapped in their thoughts or just want time by themselves. This links to recent discussion on empathy. There can be an easy assumption that someone who refrains from interaction is "not a people person" or is even anti-social when in fact they are respecting other people's space. 

It's also worth noting that sometimes interaction (including between people who know each other) can be the product of nervousness and unease. One or both of those present feel they need to fill the supposed gap between them with words but this chatter may just irritate the other or create extra tension. Often it's a sign that you're really comfortable with someone - especially someone close to you - that you can be in each other's company and content to be silent.

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MrGrey

I can't smile on purpose.  It comes out weird and creepy.

6hmgee.jpg

Edited by MrGrey

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