Trying to get strangers to hug you isn’t as hard as you may think.
I found out I was going to have to stand by the Sample Gates with a “Free Hugs” sign and ask people I didn’t know for a hug less than 24 hours before I did it. But it was a bright and balmy Bloomington afternoon, and as soon as I bit the bullet and asked the first person, it was much easier to approach people.
Most people said “yes” after I asked them. It seemed as if those who accepted my unexpected affection had a “Why not?” attitude.
But other people dealt with the awkwardness by refusing. Photographer Clayton Moore and I figured some people who didn’t want the hug just wanted to be home after a long day of studying. But some of those who did hug me had probably been studying, too, and I hope I brightened their day.
As you might expect, I wasn’t the only person set up at the Sample Gates. Some people were filming a short movie starring a fiddle player who quits music to go to business school, but then meets a guitarist. Maybe the lively music put people in the right mood to accept my hug.
A group of people accepted my hug and then talked to me for a minute afterward. They turned out to be Brazilian. One of them said it would be normal for two people to hug in public in Brazil, but in the U.S., usually people just wave.
Two girls stopped, hugged, and chatted with me. One of them said an embrace breaks a barrier between strangers. She said a hug is friendly and a nice thing for people to do.
One guy went above and beyond when I asked him for a hug. He picked me up like I was his nephew on a holiday. He was wearing a University of Alabama shirt, and when I said “Roll Tide” to him, his face lit up. He and his group of friends nodded and unanimously responded with the ‘Bama proverb.
I wouldn’t describe myself as visually striking. With my green hoodie, glasses, and jeans, I wouldn’t stand out in a crowd. I’m not very artistic either, and the sign I made in minutes with washable markers wasn’t that powerful.
But I tried to be enthusiastic, and I asked almost everyone who walked through the Gates. A hug is a gesture that’s universally recognized. It only takes a second, but it’s memorable.
My display was apparently powerful enough to attract one girl. She went out of her way and crossed the street. She broke off with her group of friends momentarily to get a free hug. She summed up the whole experience perfectly as she walked away. “It made me happy.”
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