Sunday, November 15, 2009

Giving away dollars

Yesterday afternoon Jane and I went to one of the local Walmart stores and gave away 20 one-dollar bills. It's something I've wanted to do for awhile - just to see how people would react. Then Jane took a Sociology class, and she had an assignment where she was supposed to do something 'against the norm' (to see how people reacted), and my sociological experiment was legitimized.

So we arrived at Walmart about 4 pm. I was surprised I was a little nervous at first. Jane was supposed to just observe, so she leaned against the wall around the corner from the entrance, and I stood and waited for my first victim...customer...lab rat(?). I only approached people who were entering the store, not exiting. Most people tried to avoid me, so I would just walk their way, hold out a dollar bill, and ask, "Would you like a dollar?" I counted eight people who declined before the first one accepted. After that I couldn't really keep count anymore, but I would guess just as many if not more people declined than accepted. It probably took about 20 minutes to give away 20 ones.

Some random observations that I can recall:
  • One middle-aged couple struck up a conversation and wanted to know why I was doing it. I said I just wanted to give it away. They said I should give it to someone who needs it. I said they were welcome to if they liked. They were quite happy and fun to talk to.
  • One 60-ish lady with what appeared to be her 20-30-ish son was very appreciative and said "God bless you" to me.
  • One lady around 40-ish wondered if there was a Salvation Army kettle to put it in. I said I didn't know, and she continued to back her way into the store. She smiled and laughed, but wouldn't take the dollar.
  • With one younger couple the guy ignored me, but the girl started to put her hand out. She finally took it after I told her "Oh, you know you want it," and then she looked at him like she wondered if she was going to be in trouble.
  • I had one lady with a child of about 10. The lady ignored me, but the child looked at me like she wanted the dollar. Finally the mom said ok. As they walked in the daughter said, "Is this mine to keep?" to her mom (I'm assuming it was mother/daughter).
  • I think only 3 people asked me why I was doing it. 1 wanted to know what the catch was. When I said there was no catch "Just want to give away dollars" she kept walking and didn't take one.
  • I think almost everyone who took one said thank-you.
  • It seemed that when people saw others taking one they were much more likely to take one themselves. Those who came in alone, or in a pair, were more likely to just ignore me.
  • Children got much more excited and were much more apt to take a dollar than adults.
  • I had one family with maybe 4 kids (all around 7-12 years old), and when I gave the first one a dollar the rest didn't ask for one. When I gave them each a dollar they were pretty excited though.
  • There was a guy sitting in the passenger seat of a car parked right beside the entrance the whole time. Every time I looked his way he was slumped way down and either looking away or looking down.
  • No one got ignorant at all, but it seemed quite a few were scared. I'm sure they thought I wanted something in return, or it was some kind of trick, or something. I don't blame them, I would probably be the same on some days.
All in all it was an interesting experiment. I didn't really know what to expect. I'm not sure if it proved anything or not, but... it was fun.


JAH said...

Thanks. It was a great idea and being able to use it for class was such a nice bonus!

Jim said...

Great experiment!

One of my favorite sites on the Web is Jay Carson's "The Plug," a self-published e-zine of weird stuff Jay thinks up, and that often involve going out and doing similar things as this. Check this one out:

Be careful on The Plug site - it is easy to waste a lot of time there (although I'll send you a few more links to his classics via email, if you're interested).

Abundance said...

Loved this. So interesting!

I love to give money away myself, and have definitely run into a few here and there who become suspicious and uncomfortable. I completely understand their reaction -- receiving can be strangely scary, I think. But what a joy it is, finding those people who are open to it! They are generally the people with the biggest hearts, I find, and nearly always end up giving a bigger gift than the giver.