Talking to strangers in London. Whatever next?


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(I found this fantastic picture by Zerflin on  


I’ve always been a smiley person. Even when I’m miserable, crying and being given anti-depressants by the GP, I’ll muster up some kind of raised lip position. It’s my default expression, especially if I’m one on one with someone.

But smiling at strangers on the street it’s a different matter. In London it’s just not the done thing. Not the done thing at all. People look at you like you’re crazy/stupid/after something – or they just plain ignore you.

But as part of rejection therapy I’ve been going for it. I’ve been smiling at at least three strangers a day for the last month.

I won’t lie, it’s quite hard. A lot of people look at you like you’re nuts, some pretend they haven’t seen you and others look like you’re about to nick their bag. On days when you’re feeling a bit low, these snubs feel like a personal rejection. Especially, of course, when it’s guys that do it. Then I do my usual though spiral of ‘he thinks you fancy him/he thinks you’re ugly/he thinks…’

It also feels a bit depressing. How is it that we live in a world where it’s considered weird for one human being to smile at another human being?

But there have been some sweet moments, which make all the blank stony faces pale into the background.

A few weekends ago I was queuing up at a cafe in Hyde Park to order lunch for me and my friends. It was the weekend that I was beginning to feel run down and tired, and fed up with self-help. So I wasn’t on sparkly, smiley form but standing in line I started talking to a man in front of me. He was French and visiting and a bit confused about the queuing/ordering system. To be honest it was very confusing. It was one of those situations where they had eight staff tripping over each other behind the bar and a line of customers not getting served.

Anyway, I did my best to explain the organised chaos and he smiled and said thank you and I smiled back and said no problem. It wasn’t a flirty exchange and it took no more than two minutes but after he’d placed his order and was about to go to his table, he turned around to me and said ‘Thank you for your smile,’ and walked away.

How lovely is that? I didn’t even give me a mega watt smile, it would have been a really watery ‘I feel tired and fed up, poor me’ smile.  You should see my really good smile, I wanted to say! But even my sub-standard smile made a difference to his day – and in turn mine.

Then a week later in another cafe (I know, I know, I may as well call this blog Self-help at Starbucks, except I don’t go to Starbucks…) I placed my order and must have smiled at the guy behind the till. I wasn’t even aware of doing but again, he told me I had a lovely smile. He said that most customers don’t smile, they’re too busy/stressed/pre-occupied.

We got talking and I told him about this blog and he told me that he’s starting a movement in London called ‘I talk to strangers’.  He’s asked me if I wanted a badge, which I’d wear and which would indicate that people could come up and talk to me. I said yes. Here it is:


Anyway, his name is David Blackwell and he’s starting a movement to re-humanise the city by encouraging us to smile and chat to each other more often.  ‘We don’t have to be afraid of each other. People are good and interesting and funny and surprising…’ I couldn’t agree more.

Here is the facebeook link – I love it.

We talk about why Londoners in particular don’t smile or talk to each other. I don’t think it’s that people are horrible or stuck up, but I think that we’re scared of looking uncool/getting rejected/striking up a conversation with a robber/drug addict/axe murderer.  But how many axe murderers are there really? Is it worth blanking the 99 per cent of the population who are lovely on the off chance that you smile at a crazy person?

Of course there’s another reason too – in cities like London most people are pretty tired and stressed. We have to work so hard just to pay the bills and keep things join that we walk around like zombies most of the time. Also culturally it’s just not the done thing here to be overly friendly. It’s why London is rated one of the most unfriendly cities in the world.

But we’re all different when we’re travelling – so many people have written to me to say that they are totally fine with making new friends when they are travelling or have been working abroad. It’s like we become a different self. But why don’t we try to have a bit of that travelling attitude at home? After all, a simple smiles opens more doors than just about anything.

Inspired by David and wearing my badge, I got on the tube to meet a friend and started talking to the woman next to me who had a pram. I admired her baby and she told me he was 12 days old and this was his first day out of the house. We had a lovely chat about how much baby Noah loved the motion of the tube and what it was like for her to be back in the real world. ‘Weird,’ she said.

Anyway, my suggestion to you is to talk to strangers or at very least smile at them. At best you’ll get a smile back or a good chat and at worst you’ll get the satisfaction of knowing you confused the hell out of people.

Going to do one more rejection therapy post tomorrow (typical, I’ve got a second wind just as I’m meant to be finishing) before F**K IT THERAPY WHICH I CANNOT WAIT FOR.


12 thoughts on “Talking to strangers in London. Whatever next?

  1. Rhian

    How much nicer would the world be if we did all smile more and engage with strangers? I’m going to try it on my lunch break, instead of what I did yesterday which was get extremely annoyed at the queue in the post office and want to shout at the lady behind the desk when I eventually got served. It didn’t achieve anything good at all!

  2. Becki

    Hello from Florida! Great post! I notice when I’m at the grocery some days I find people staring at me and when I realize it’s happening, it’s because I’m unconsciously smiling at them or at the least am walking around with an amused or happy expression. I love when it happens because it just shows that people are attracted to you when you’re pleasant!

    Your link to David’s FB page didn’t work, maybe because I’m on my mobile?

    Anyhow, I love your blog and am secretly hoping to bump into you when I’m in London this November. Well I guess it’s not a secret now. 🙂
    Becki xx

    1. Marianne Power

      Ah! It would be lovely to say hello in November, just drop me a line nearer the time. Thanks for reading and for letting me know about the FB link, sure I did something wrong. Chuffed you like the blog and that you’re a fellow smiler. Keep at it, it’s catching…

  3. a

    During my childhood, when I lived in Colorado for a few years, my classmates were very friendly and open to meeting new strangers- even adults liked to chat with me and complement me on my skating every weekend when I visited the skating rink.

    Unfortunately, when I moved to the south, I discovered that kids and adults aren’t open to strangers at all, despite living in smaller towns and cities; perhaps, this is due to the racial tensions that existed decades ago. Self-segregation still exists.

    In the suburbs, I’ve given up on smiling and saying “Hello” to strangers who exercise outdoors because I got tired of being given signals that people didn’t want me to bother them (i.e. being ignored or responded to reluctantly). I thought they’d be more likely to be friendly, like the outdoorsy people in Colorado, but that’s not the case.

    I don’t know; at my job, my employer and customers asked me my age because they didn’t think I looked old enough to work and said that they thought I was 14 or 16 (usually the former), so perhaps the older adults I’ve tried to greet thought that I was a teenager, as well, and thought that it’s weird, suspicious, or strange for a child to speak to them.

  4. Kathryn Cassidy

    I’ve ‘spread the word’ on Twitter. It’s an Incredibly inspired idea David had – so simple but if adopted it could change the world. What’s he doing still working in Starbucks, he should be with an ad agency as Creative Director or working for OM Times! You were certainly in there by Divine Design Miss P x

  5. Zoe R

    Button for us New Yorkers: “I would talk to strangers, but I’m in a hurry and you’re in my way.” and the follow up, “With the exception of Marianne’s radiant smile.”

  6. Zerflin (@Zerflin)

    I see that you used my illustration on your page, I’m flattered!

    While I don’t mind you using my image at all; it’s important to me to have the image credited with the author; myself. I make a living by selling the work I do. 🙂

    It’s part of a series of quotes I did on famous people. You can see more about the series here (and you can repost them if you like):

  7. Pingback: What’s a Queue? | zibainlondon

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