Friday, May 23, 2008

How to Be Nice to Strangers and the World Around You

  • At a tourist spot, ask people if they would like you to take their picture in front of a beautiful view or a historic monument.
  • Subtly alert people when they have food in their teeth, an undone zipper, or toilet paper stuck to a shoe. They’ll be far less mortified than if they find out two hours later.
  • Pay for the drive-through order of the car behind you.
  • Leave your extra change in the soda machine for someone else to find. Better yet, leave enough change for a soda.
  • Athena Williams-Atwood, the president and CEO of Inspired Action, a consulting firm in San Francisco, carries rolls of quarters with her for parking. “If I see someone else’s meter running low,” she says, “I just pop a couple of quarters in. I may have saved that person $30 or $50 — all for 50 cents.”
  • Stop your car to let someone merge into traffic from a side street, or wave someone into the parking spot you were both eyeing.
  • When an elderly person is crossing the street slowly, walk alongside her at the same pace the whole way across. She’ll feel less embarrassed when the light changes if you’re in the intersection with her.
  • Trade your low ticket number at the deli counter for that of someone who seems to be in a hurry (or is shopping with children).
  • If you’re at an event or a party where you know lots of people, look around to see if anyone is there alone. If so, introduce yourself — and then introduce her to others.
  • When someone looks lost, stop and ask him if he needs directions. “I’ll never forget the people who have helped me when I was traveling,” says Real Simple staffer Melinda Page. “One man in Italy saw me looking at a map in confusion, asked if he could help, then walked five minutes out of his way to show me the place I was looking for, because it was hard to explain.”
  • Give blood. To find out where to donate, go to the website of the American Association of Blood Banks, at
  • Carry plastic bags when you’re hiking or camping, and pick up litter that you find along the way.
  • Instead of tossing magazines and old books into the recycling bin, drop a stack off at a local women’s shelter or your gym.
  • If you use public transportation on your commute to work, offer a fellow passenger your newspaper rather than tossing it in the trash.
  • “Adopt” an animal (via donation) from your city’s zoo or aquarium. You’ll get a photo and a bio of your new family member, and you can take your kids to visit it.
  • Charlene Moser of Northglenn, Colorado, started the nonprofit organization Lynda’s Legacy ( in honor of a close friend who died at age 30 after battling a serious illness for years. “Lynda introduced me to the concept of creating happiness for other people as a way to feel like you could make a difference,” Moser says. Today she and her family plan “kindness field trips,” such as driving around town handing out cold drinks to people working outside, or sending flowers through the deposit tubes at drive-through banks. “Lynda was a person of action,” says Moser. “When she died, I wanted to ensure that ‘Lyndaness’ wouldn’t stop.”

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