Giving ice-cream to strangers


Icy polesI remember being told when I was five years old that under no circumstances should I accept sweets from strangers. Fair enough, this is common sense. But what if you are that stranger?

Recently I missed my train and was stuck on the platform for an hour. It was unseasonably warm and I had in my bag of groceries a pack of ice-creams — the kind that look like an icy pole but are in fact filled with vanilla ice-cream.

I was quickly overcome by a panic next only to that feeling you get at a buffet when you realise you're full and you haven't even started on the desserts yet. My ice-creams were almost definitely about to melt into a sad soupy mess at the bottom of my bag.

If there is one thing I can't abide it's wasted ice-cream.

Now I could have made a pretty good go at eating ten in an hour, but it wouldn't have been pretty. And since I was planning a dinner containing enough cheese to give me (and my cat) nightmares for a week I thought it wise to abstain.

But throwing away these treats was not an option. So if I couldn't eat them, then somebody else bloody well better.

I reasoned that if someone offered me an ice-cream on a hot day I would be chuffed. I'm reasonably well turned out, clean-ish and in no way resemble the child catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Surely this could be classed as a random act of kindness? I don't want anything from anyone — I just don't want to waste food and it would be lovely if someone else could enjoy these goodies.

I looked around and spied a teenage boy in school uniform.

'These ice-creams are about to melt — would you like one?' I chirped.

He looked up from his phone, shook his head and grunted.

I tried a woman standing nearby.

'Would you like one? They'll only go to waste!'

'No thank you dear.'

'Oh. Okay then.'

By this time my face was red with embarrassment and rejection. It dawned on me that I was the weirdo on the platform offering sweets to strangers and it was not a good look. There was no going back: I'd broken the strict rules of platform-stranger etiquette. I was an outcast and a fruit loop.

It was at this point that I noticed a man in a blue National Rail uniform, name tag and standard issue hi-vis jacket. Bingo! What a lovely idea! I'll give them to the staff at the station, it'll be a nice thing on a hot day when they have to work, and there's plenty to go around!

I wandered up to the man, put on my most apologetic voice and said: 'Excuse me, I was wondering if you could do me a favour? I just bought these ice-creams but now I have a long wait and they're about to melt. I don't want them to go to waste ... do you think you could take them off my hands?'

The platform guard looked me up and down (to check I'm not a loony), looked at the ice-creams and said in his most hard-done-by, you-owe-me-one voice: 'Yeah, I could do that.'

He took the ice-cream and marched off quick as you like.

I stood there dumbstruck; I didn't expect that. I re-ran the scene in my head. Did I word it wrong? Was I too apologetic? Did he genuinely think he was doing me a favour by taking my ice-cream?

Contrary to the foundations of a random act of kindness I had expected something in return. In my head this man would turn around with a big grin on his face and say 'Thank you! That made my day!'

Where was my warm fuzzy feeling?

There's a bit in the bible that says 'Do not let your left hand know what your right is doing.' Which is useful in this context. I selfishly assumed that the tiny gesture would make me feel good about myself and earn heavy karma points ...

A cautionary tale perhaps. 

Phoebe MarshPhoebe Marsh is a theatre maker who worked as an intern at La Mama Theatre in Melbourne in 2008. She is now completing a masters in Theatre Dramaturgy at the University of Kent in the UK.

Topic tags: Phoebe Marsh, charity



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Existing comments

Unfortunately Australian society has become entrenched in the paranoid personality trait. We are bombarded with media reports from near & far. When I was a small child it was Reds under the Bed, now it is even closer to home. Be care ful of the strange old lady walking down the street, don't trust her because she might have designs on your gorgeous little girl child. Why? Well you see she might be mentally ill or have a grudge about society. Whatever the reason, don't be discouraged if I had been offered a freebe I would have asked why and then accepted the gift with grattitude and a thank you. but then I come from the old school of the nineteen fifties. Perhaps the platform gaurd had been having a bad day. Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year
Kath Garraway | 21 December 2011

Thanks Phoebe - no-one is obliged to accept the "kindness" of strangers, although politeness is a must. Maybe that platform guard just had you sussed, and did you a favour in reinforcing your good old Christian humility.
Michelle Goldsmith | 21 December 2011

I have had a similar experince at a small coffe b ar in the food hall of a major shopping plaza I get two dough nuts with the don't want them and try to find a chiild or two kids who might like them ...but it is a major operation to do so/...perhaps they suspect an old guy giving sweets to kids...even Mother's recoil...and I don't look like Dracula.;;;but old men are the most reviled people in our society..though I am a multiple grandfather and deerly them all... Is it a comment on our society and our times ?
Brian Mac | 21 December 2011


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