How to Ask for Help from Strangers

We at Etiquette Central preach the doctrine of take care of yourself. Be aware of what you need and what you have so that you don’t inconvenience other people by asking them to drive out in rainstorms because you ran out of contact solution or you didn’t realize the deadline was today and the nearest over-night mail service is 45 minutes away.

But there are times when, despite your best efforts, you end up in need of assistance and then, my dear, ask for assistance. None of us, even moi, is so perfectly prepared; there will always be a time to lean on strangers. So pick well and look carefully at the person you are approaching! Two people talking are better than one person alone; a person without alcohol in front of them is better than someone drinking; someone closer to your age is better than a huge age disparity.

Start with an apology, state what is wrong and what you need clearly and in only 2 or 3 sentences. If they are rude, walk away without saying anything; if they won’t help but are kind, ask if they know of someone who might help. And if they help, don’t only say “Thank you.” Say this: “Thank you. I hope if you are even in need, that someone will help you as you have helped me.”

“I hope people treat you the way you have treated me” is a very potent charm. It is much stronger than just “Thank you” as it reminds the person you are talking to of the connectivity of the world. Every person has, metaphorically, stood on an empty railroad platform with no working phone and wondered what to do. When someone approaches you and asks to use your phone or how to get somewhere or simply for the time, you have a chance to acquire merit. With each person you help, you gain that much more confidence to ask for help yourself when you are in need.

 If you live in a city with panhandlers, then you must make your peace before you leave the house. You can decide never to give, give only change you have in your pocket, give a X amount – it is your choice, but make that decision (adjusting as necessary) and stick with it so that you don’t have to ponder it every day. And never defend your choice. You can explain your reasoning to a few very close friends, but what you do with your money is your choice.

There are many valid ways to be generous – no need to give cash unless you want to. Simply make sure you are being generous to the world in some way. And relentlessly ignore people who are sure THEIR way to be generous is best. It’s lovely that some people volunteer at food kitchens but dropping off foodstuffs or writing a check to a food bank are equally kind.

And if you the recipient of the world’s kindness (someone finds your wallet and returns it intact), immediately find a way to help someone else.

You will need help as you pass through life. Try to be worthy of it before you have to ask.

[And try not to judge! or assume! As I navigate my way through this summer there have been several times in which people around me are confused at my behavior. I look and dress like a ‘local’ but I have been out of the country for so long, I have forgotten all the small details such as how to use my credit card: I keep handing it to clerks who look puzzled and point to the slot I am supposed to use. I say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ in Arabic and yesterday ordered coffee in Arabic. You simply can’t know what is going on by outside appearances. That strong-looking person might not be able to open the door, the person who walks without a limp might need help up the stairs.]