Watching Stuff

Would you mind watching my stuff, please?
Would you mind watching my stuff, please?

Have you ever sat somewhere—a coffee shop, waiting room, or any other public space—when a total stranger asked you if you wouldn’t mind watching their stuff while they went to the bathroom, to the out-of-eyesight-from-their-table counter, outside to try to find their friends or family, or wherever?

It’s happened to me. I’ve seen it happen to other people too. And those other people didn’t appear to have any prior contact with the owners of the stuff that allegedly needed watching.

Does this strike you as being as bizarre as it strikes me?

I suppose that before you can answer that you need to know how bizarre I consider that sort of request to be. The answer is, totally, completely, absolutely, insanely effing bizarre. That’s how bizarre.

Hi, potential thief. Watch my stuff please.

Really. Why would you ask someone you don’t know to watch your stuff? I know I’m an honest person, but a stranger doesn’t know that about me. Or about any one else who’s a stranger to them, for that matter.

Sure, if there’s a bank robbery in progress, it’s a good bet that the guy pointing a gun and demanding that the teller hand over all of the cash is a crook. But other people? Can you reliably distinguish between the honest and dishonest ones in uneventful, everyday contexts? I know I can’t.

Language Issues

Besides, how do you know that the other person—a complete stranger to you—has a firm grasp of the English language? When you ask someone, “would you mind watching my stuff?” he or she may misunderstand. They might misinterpret what you said as, “I’ll be leaving for a few minutes. I won’t be able to see my stuff while I’m gone. If it wouldn’t be too much trouble, please quickly haul it away and do with it as you please.”

Seriously. If this is something you do, then, for all you know, you’re effectively saying, “Hi, thief! Nice to meet you. I won’t be around to watch my stuff for a while. So, please, help yourself.”

Not Everyone is a Stuff Hero

Even if the prospective stuff-watcher is honest and understands your request, what are the chances they’ll valiantly defend your stuff if it comes down to that?

“Hi, thief. That stuff belongs to someone else, someone whom I don’t know from Adam. So, please, put down your gun and walk away.”

I try to be a nice guy whenever I can. But I’m not terribly brave. And I’m definitely not a hero.

If a thief so much as scowls at me I’ll probably look down at my feet, shuffle them for a few moments, crawl onto the floor, and curl up into a fetal position. If you’re looking for a courageous person to guard your possessions, I’m not a particularly good choice.

(One exception to the preceding paragraph is if I’m traveling and a thief tries to steal my—not someone else’s—iPhone. But that’s another story from a number of years ago; a story of tremendous stupidity on my part. I may tell it here one day. Or not. Keep checking this space.)

You have to wonder—and if not you, then certainly me—whether asking a stranger to watch your stuff significantly decreases the likelihood of you being ripped off. I have my doubts.

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