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Monday, September 12, 2011


Sitting outside the Waffle Palace behind my bags

8:00 am BST, September 9 2011.  I am sitting at an outside table at the Waffle Palace, 100 feet or so from the Queensway Tube (subway) Station in London, UK. No one is smiling.  Everyone seems to be looking down at the ground and when they look up they have an intense focus on their face along with a pointed frown. Really, really.

The Experiment

I have time today before my flight home and am in no rush.  So I decided to try a little experiment.

For 30 minutes I would attempt to catch they eye of passers-by.  If I was successful in making eye contact, I would smile at them.  If they smiled back I would say, "Have a nice day."

I would tally my results.

The Results

Unimpressive.  During 30 minutes I was successful at making eye contact with 7 people.  Of those 7 people only 3 smiled back.  Of those 3 only 2 replied to my "Have a nice day" with something similar in kind (One said. "Cheers, mate" and the other said, "You too.").

Now I am not sure if this is a commentary of the Brits, or city people or what -- but it is certainly -- quite the sad, pathetic commentary.  Especially when you consider the remarkable effort I made to engage people and the mass of people passing by the table.

First, what does "remarkable effort" mean?

It means that after 15 minutes sitting back in my chair looking at people's faces, I started leaning forward so I had to turn my head to look at people (and placing my face in their proximate path) and staring intensely at their eyes.  This second strategy did get a better response than my initial efforts.  People did look toward me but avoided eye contact -- choosing to look at my legs/feet, baggage sitting in front of me or the table I was sitting at -- never at my face or eyes.

Second, what does "mass of people" mean?  

I decided to take two 3-minute samples of people who passed by my table and count the total number.  I could then easily multiply by 10 to arrive at a simplistic range of people walking by.  The first tally was 99 people in 3 minutes.  The second tally was 71 people in 3 minutes.  You can conclude from this rather simple sample that between 710 and 990 people passed by my table.  (That makes sense because I was sitting nearby a busy tube station).  I can't tell you the race percentages of the people walking by but I can tell you that the majority of those walking by my table were Caucasian.

Pulling out my trusty calculator, the numbers even look worse.  Between .71% and.98% responded to my efforts and made eye contact, between .30% and .39% smiled at me and between .20 % and .26% spoke to me.

What is wrong with the world today? Your thoughts?

2 comments:

Gill said...

Wow, that's a real indictment but I think you would have fared better up North!

Marta said...

Could it be that maybe these people haven't had their morning coffees yet and were on their way to work?