The Kindness of Strangers
April 23, 2003 9:00 PM   Subscribe

"Let me help you. Step down. Here we go!
The drum major's widow! She's worn his coat since the day he died. The horse's head has lost an ear! That's the florist laughing. He has crinkly eyes. In the bakery window, lollipops! Smell that! They're giving out melon slices. Sugarplum ice cream! We're passing the butcher. Ham, 79 francs. Spareribs, 45! Now the cheese shop. Picadors are 12.90. Cabecaus, 23.50. A baby is watching a dog that's watching the chickens! Now we're at the kiosk by the metro. I'll leave you here. Bye!"
posted by MzB (12 comments total)
In case you are wondering, the quote is from Amelie.

Let's have our own "scientific" study: what stories can you tell about the benevolence of city-dwellers?
posted by MzB at 9:04 PM on April 23, 2003

Clever post format Mzb, i like your style. There see, an honest compliment. i am just chock full of benevolent good will towards strangers ;p
posted by quin at 10:14 PM on April 23, 2003

Man. I clicked every link hoping it would lead to a photo of Audrey Tatou. Great post, MzB, even if it was Audrey-less.

posted by shoepal at 6:27 AM on April 24, 2003

Wow, I couldn't understand this post at all (and I saw Amelie), but the article was really interesting.

I wonder about this study. The amount of foot-traffic in places like Rochester and Nashville can't be as great as the amount in Boston. Bostonians walk everywhere - those other places, you mostly drive. Maybe people were more helpful in these tests in Nashville because the only people out walking around weren't in a hurry. Bostonians on foot are almost always walking to work or to an appointment, not out strolling and shopping (unless on Newbury Street - I'm talking about Downtown Crossing).
posted by acridrabbit at 6:53 AM on April 24, 2003

Excellent post, MzB, and very nicely framed. The final link, on NYC, rings true to me; my first year in the city I tried to help a stranger in need and was conned out of a good chunk of my cash on hand (which, fortunately, was almost nothing, since I was working for minimum wage at the time and spending most of it in bars—I'm sure I was a severe disappointment to the scammers—who, by the way, were brilliant actors, and it was worth the money to have seen them operate). After that, I was a lot more reluctant to be the good Samaritan.

This too made sense (from the "picadors" link): "People generally show the highest level of helpfulness in places with low economic productivity." Low productivity = "Hey, why should I rush to my job when I can be helping this poor person?" NYC: "Sorry, pal, I'd love to help but time is money and I'm running late already."
posted by languagehat at 7:27 AM on April 24, 2003

Is this post something I'd have to have seen Amelie to understand? Because I haven't seen Amelie.

No, I'm serious. This post made no sense to me whatsoever. Good link, though.
posted by luser at 7:52 AM on April 24, 2003

For those of you that didn't get it:
The quote is from a scene in Amelie in which the titular character is helping a blind man. She's guiding him down the street and describing things they pass.
And if you haven't seen the movie, what's wrong with you!?
Anyways. Thanks MzB. I'll have to find time to read this.
posted by kavasa at 8:02 AM on April 24, 2003

I bet I get asked for change or something similar 5 times a day on my walk to work. It usually begins with "Can I ask you a question?" I've developed a lot of automatic responses, of course. But I also live in a tourist destination (DC), so there are many people I encounter who truly do need help, not just of the financial type. I wonder how many of them I've given my "look-askance-while-saying-"I'm-sorry" treatment to? What's a guy to do?
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:07 AM on April 24, 2003

I'd be interested in a helping study that controlled (in F2F situations) for the "attractiveness" of the person needing help. I don't just mean sexual attractiveness, although that's a big part of it. Maybe a better phrase is "the level of otherness." I think people are afraid, on some deep level, of people who don't look or act like they do, and are therefore less likely to help them. This probably explains, for instance, the story in the link about the man carrying peanuts who had a heart attack (?). I don't think that says as much about the relatively helpfulness of that country vs. some other, as much as it does about how likely people are to help "one of their own" rather than some drunk sleeping it off in the middle of the sidewalk.

On preview, I got that it was a blind person being led, and I got that it was from some movie or novel. Knowing that didn't help me understand what the link was about, that's all. I kind of expect that from a FPP. (I even hovered for title tags).

What's wrong with you?

Haven't seen Star Wars, ET, or any episode of any flavor of Star Trek either. But I'll stop bragging. Amelie actually is on my list.
posted by luser at 8:08 AM on April 24, 2003

This isn't very benevolent I'm afraid;

A friend of mine was washing the dishes one night, in front of the kitchen window when she heard what she thought was kids screaming and shouting just up the road, which was fairly common in the area. She shut the window and went on with her business. It turned out to be some bloke getting his throat cut by his landlord and landlady about 40 yards from her house. She didn't think anything of it until the police called looking for witnesses.
posted by biffa at 10:47 AM on April 24, 2003

I, for one, don't even have a movie theater.

Geez luser, get out and experience popular culture! It's part of life and should be wallowed in.
posted by jpburns at 11:16 AM on April 24, 2003

I found it interesting that the experiment had to be abandoned in Tokyo, because the experimenters just couldn't bring themselves to fake needing help there.

When I was there, I also found it incredibly hard to do anything even remotely naughty. Small things that I'd have done without a second thought back home in the States (keeping a bit of change that someone dropped, swiping a cool ad poster off a wall) became totally impossible.

Some of that was probably the whole "you're representing your country, be nice" phenomenon, but I honestly felt a very strong atmosphere of responsibility there. It was the first time I've ever thought of random city people as being part of a group, as opposed to a loose congregation of individuals.

People were overwhelmingly helpful, and before long I found myself becoming more willing to help, too. I even ran after some guy in a train station, to return his dropped newspaper. His dropped fucking newspaper. Where I'm from, that counts as "trash", and yet I trotted through Tokyo Station like an idiot until I caught up with him.

And then I went home, and went back to being the same old me... which probably lends some support to the theory that where you are affects friendly behavior more than where you come from.
posted by vorfeed at 1:39 PM on April 24, 2003

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