Have you ever had weird encounters with strangers — strangers with unsolicited advice? Then you know how it is. You’re minding your own business — maybe just walking down the street — then some person you don’t know barges into your life and tells you you’re doing it wrong. How do you react? With incredulity? Irritation? Make it laughter because you get to come away with a funny story.

You’re doing it wrong — dog training —

We live in a world that is chockablock with dog-rearing authorities. If you’ve ever trained a dog, you must have met one.

I have a soft-coated Wheaten terrier, Mr. Magoo. Wheaten terriers come from Ireland where they’ve been bred for over two hundred years specifically — I think — to jump up on people. We were in a park. I was straining to keep Magoo from jumping on me and to drag him away from the other people he so wanted to pounce upon. I was also pretending I didn’t notice the judgmental looks all around as I yelled louder and louder, “Down. No! Down!!”

Have you ever wanted to scream when some stranger sniped, “You should train your dog.” What did they think you were doing – or trying to do?

A little old man with advice —

When I was struggling with Mr. Magoo, the cutest little old man came walking toward us. He was smiling. I smiled back, seeing the twinkle in his eye and a look of sympathy for my challenge. I expected him you say some commiserating words like, “He’s just a puppy. He’ll get there.” But that’s not what happened. He had advice.

“Here’s what you do. The next time he jumps up, take your foot and stomp down on his foot. He’ll learn right quick.” And to show me, he leaned on his cane, lifted his foot, and stomped the ground. “Just like that. He’ll learn.”

I grabbed my dog and made our escape before this stranger could give more demonstrations of his unsolicited advice.

Unsolicited advice from the Fashion Police —

Have you ever been accosted by an imperfect stranger who told you your clothes were wrong? It’s amazing that people think it’s okay to criticize the clothes of a stranger. But they do.

The frustrating thing about unwanted criticism is that most of the time we can’t react quickly enough to come up with a zingy response. But it feels plumb wonderful those times when we do.

That Shirt’s Wrong

My friend was doing yard work wearing a tee shirt she’d bought in Dublin. It said Trinity College, Dublin, and 1592.

A woman walking past stopped, came into the yard, and said, “Your shirt is wrong!”

“I beg your pardon.”

“I happen to be from Ohio, and I know for a fact there is no Trinity College in Dublin. And we hadn’t even settled Ohio in 1592.”

With excellent reaction time, my friend said, “Have you ever heard of Ireland?”

Change your expression

“Smile. God loves you.” Do you remember when this was a trend? You’d be walking down the street, thinking about work or bills or what to make for dinner — thinking about anything except how some passing stranger would judge the expression on your face. But they did. For a while, it seemed every other person you met admonished you to smile.

Luckily, all trends run their courses. But when that trend finally petered out, a worse one came along — one that imposed guilt. “Smile. You should be grateful for this day.”

It’s illegal to punch a stranger.

Colorful Advice in Old-People Southern Speak —

I grew up in the South and my neighborhood was rich in old people. I loved listening to them talk. They summed a character in color: “He’s crookeder than a barrel of snakes.”

The old people weren’t shy about minding anybody’s business — including strangers. They passed out unsolicited advice whenever they saw fit. But they were at least entertaining because they gave their unsolicited advice in old-people Southern speak.

  • “Bless your heart. That dress is sure not keeping your secrets for you, is it?”
  • “Honey, I was walking behind you, and it looks like you’ve outgrown those pants. I expect Woolworths has something that’s your size.”
  • “Ooh, Honey, look at you — grocery shopping in your Sunday go-to-meeting clothes. Aren’t you worried that folks are gonna say you’re full of yourself.”

One afternoon, I was moping around the yard, mad because some mean boy at school had hurt my feelings. When Grandma came out and found out what I was mad about, she had this terse piece of advice. “Don’t let him get your goose.” (Southern for get over it)

More advice about a dog —  

Mr. Magoo is three now and pretty well trained — except for the jumping part. I was in a park chatting with a friend. Mr. Magoo was leashed and sitting at my feet. Two kids, maybe four or five years old came running up.

“Can we pet your dog?” I looked around for the mother. She sat on a blanket maybe twenty yards away and seemed oblivious. The kids kept asking. So, okay. He’s used to it and calmly permits the affection. So, I held him and told them to pet his back. Then I said they should go play.

But the children wouldn’t go. They kept running at the dog, waving their hands at his face, then skittering away, and coming back to do it again.

Only when Mr. Magoo got excited and started jumping and barking did the mom come. To admonish the children? No. She looked at me, annoyed, and said, “You should watch your dog around children.”

It was one of those times when no zinger came. I just stared at the woman, unbelieving, and trying hard not to let her get my goose.

Weird encounters with strangers —

If you’ve had encounters with strangers giving you unsolicited advice and if you came away with funny stories, then you won! You may actually look forward to the next person who barges into your life and tells you you’re doing it wrong. We never have enough funny stories.



October 2, 2023