Strangers in the Grocery…

Fresh Produce Stand in Ramallah, Israel
Fresh Produce Stand in Ramallah, Israel

Isn’t this beautiful!  Ramallah is one of my favorite places in the world.

Imagine walking up to the produce market with your baby in a stroller.  Certainly, the proprietor and possibly other shoppers would greet you and speak to you.  The city is small.  If someone speaks to you, it would be because they know you in some way.  They may speak to you about your child, parenting, or potty training or even… maybe religion.  Chances are though the person would feel permitted to do so because of an existing connection or prior relationship.

In the southern U.S.A. we are very proud of how friendly we are.  Blogs have been written about the wonder of how kind Memphians are as a whole.  BUT, face it, we all need some lessons in boundaries.  You know, relational lines we draw in the relational sand that help people know how far they can come into our territory.

Use Your Manners, But BE Rude
Use Your Manners, But BE Rude

Amanda, a young mom-friend, shared this story with me today.  (This post is a retelling she has given me permission to write, even realizing that my memory is sketchy at times.  It will be as accurate as space allows 🙂

Amanda is in Kroger scoping out the products on a narrow aisle as a lady walks by and speaks to her daughter, Stella (my new best friend) sitting in the cart basket.  Stella is spunky, bright, and mature for her 3 years.  So, when Strange-Lady  speaks to her, Stella does not respond.

Strange-Lady:  “Somebody must be in a bad mood today.  You should be kind when someone is nice to you.” Sporting a sarcastic smile.

Amanda:  “Oh, I think she is being a little shy today.  Be sweet, Stella, tell the lady, ‘hello.’”

Ever silent Stella.  (My vote is for her Stella, wise beyond her years.)

Amanda:  “Well, she will spunk up later, I am sure.”

Sour Strange-Lady:  “Oh, I suppose she will.”

Of course, the hope is that they will never see the lady again with her guilt and implied ‘shoulds’.  However, not so lucky.  You guessed it! There she is again in the meat section and Stella ignores her.  Sour Strange-Lady smiles weakly and with twinges of bitterness at the corners of her eyes, says, “Well, I see someone’s mood is no better than it was.  You know Santa Claus sees everything you do and if you aren’t nice, he won’t bring you presents.”

HOW AWKWARD FOR AMANDA.  Southern hospitality dictates she cannot respond with,

“Lady, we don’t believe in guilting our kid into good behavior. That kind of parenting creates a number of psychosis.”  or  “Stella, the rude lady doesn’t mean to be prideful and ignorant, expecting you to cater to her weak self esteem, she is just crazy.”

Before Amanda can do much else, the Scary Stranger-Lady begins to preach a legalistic sermon about Jesus that the lady will surely brag to all her friends about later.  Something about how Jesus sees Stella all the time and she better be nice to people, blah blah blah…

Scary-Grocery-Store-Stranger is a perfect opportunity to teach kind boundary setting for toddlers.  We all want our tots to know how to reject uncomfortable attention from anyone that makes them feel weird.

SO… What to do?  What to say?

Body language first.  Make sure to stand tall.  My Amanda is gorgeous and tall.  Upon standing erectly we show bravery and put ourselves in a confident position.  Smile, of course.  The smile is disarming, a terrific second weapon.  Then follow with something like this:

“Stella is having a lovely day! She is, however uncomfortable around strangers/people she does not know.  We mean you know unkindness or disrespect.  Hope God blesses your day.”  And off you toodle to complete your shopping.  Even if you run into, Critical-Hag-Grocery-Granny again not only have you put her in her place, and taught your daughter how to deflect a stranger, but you have warded her off for the next time you see her.  You didn’t have to criticize or defend your child to a stranger to get your point across.  AND you blessed her to boot.

If the above isn’t radical enough, just teach little Suzie to cry out “Stranger Danger! Stranger Danger!” every time a person she does not know speaks with her.  That seems extreme and could prove embracing.

Truthfully, Kindness always pays off down the road.  Like Bill and Ted said, “Be Excellent to Each Other.” (even crazed-grocery-grannies.)  Mz. Jenna says it this way, “Draw good boundaries using your kindest ways, but, Be rude if you need to” 🙂

Good Advice for teaching your children, click here.

Interesting perspective on talking to strangers, click here.

For words from Dr. Phil, click here.

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