Thursday, October 23, 2014

Tourists, I'll Help You Take A Selfie

There's nothing more painful than watching someone attempt to take a selfie from afar (okay, I can think of a few things more painful, but ...); that outstretched arm, the leaning back, the repeated attempts. I see it every day: on my way to work, after yoga, when I'm out to dinner. Usually, it's on a bridge - Waterloo Bridge, to be exact. I don't blame them. The view of Southbank is beautiful from there. And, at the right angle, you can probably get the London Eye as well as the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben all in the background.

Last Thursday, Caroline and I were debriefing our attendance at the Frieze Art Fair over a plateful of Pizza Express dough balls (garlic butter FTW) when something beyond her shoulder caught my attention: a man was trying to take a selfie of his entire table of four with his phone and clearly not succeeding. After the fourth painful attempt, I finally interrupted Caroline mid-sentence by touching her arm and saying, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I have to help this guy." 

The secret to asking people if they'd like you to take their photo is not to act awkward - otherwise, it just becomes super awkward for everyone (I only mention this because I have been that awkward person). So without really thinking about it, I approached their table and breezily asked, "Do you want me to take that for you?" "Oh please!" came the grateful reply. And after two snaps, they came away with a perfectly good group photo framed by their pizza Romanas - no chopped heads or long, extended arms in sight (it also helped that he had an amazing camera phone). 

I get it. Not every event warrants a group photo, but sometimes, you just want to commemorate the experience - freeze that moment in time. 

I remember observing a family of four standing in front of us in line at Comiso airport, Sicily. Father and son were on their way to London; mother and other son were staying behind. They must have taken four or five photos. Ordinarily, I might have been judgmental, questioning the necessity of taking airport selfies, but then I pictured the woman flipping through the photos on her phone with her friends at lunch, showing off her husband and son on their way to London. I thought about those photos being printed and placed in an album somewhere; I thought of the son showing his children someday, that photo of him and his dad about to board the plane for whatever mysterious adventure they were going on. It made me nostalgic for the times my family was "sent off" at the airport at the conclusion of our annual visits to Hong Kong. Our entire extended family would gather at Hong Kong airport together and take photos: the little ones sitting on the floor, the men looking stoic and stiff, the women smiling slightly with upturned corners of their mouths.

Of course, those were the times before selfie-sticks or camera phones - or even digital cameras - for that matter. Film cameras were passed around from hand to hand, before prints finally appeared in our home in Small Town, Washington a few months later with the par avion sticker firmly planted on the front of the envelope they arrived in, having traveled over 6,500 miles to reach us.

So the next time I see someone struggling to take a selfie, I won't hesitate to step in and help. Maybe they're traveling solo and want to send a photo back to family and friends. Maybe it's a couple celebrating their engagement, or honeymoon, or anniversary. Maybe someone just wants a photo of themselves in front of a pretty backdrop.

What about you? What's your selfie style? Would you step in to help or continue on your way?



  1. Great post. You're right; you never know what the back-story to a photo attempt might be. I think it was cool of you to help that group with their photo! I've never offered to help a stranger take a photo, but that's mostly because I'm awkward and shy and incapable of being breezy in most situations.

    1. Thanks so much, Maslo. My best friend told me a hilarious story (I asked her to post it here, but she didn't!) about the time she asked a man if he wanted her to take a photo for him and he was like, "Um, no. I don't know these people. They just asked me to take their photo for them." #AWKWARD!!! And so hilarious.

      And also, I am really awkward and shy - the "breezy" side of me comes out at random, Jekyll and Hyde moments.

  2. I love it when a stranger steps in and offers to take a photo, and in turn, when I do it for someone else it makes me feel good. There's something nice about the whole experience, and I always walk away from either having my photo taken by someone or taking someone else's photo feeling happy – like I've shared in their experience. We should all do it more often!

  3. I think it's wonderful karma to help as well - you never know!

    1. Ha, yes, that's what I like to think sometimes, Emma!


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