My Gum Philosophy: Why I Don’t Give Gum to Strangers

Also why I don’t give out my number to strangers, why I don’t let strangers use my belongings, etc. and the list goes on. It’s really not about the gum… it’s about standing up against being taken advantage of. Sometimes it’s alright to say no. In fact, I say no most of the time. And yes, I go to sleep happy every night.

Sitting in class, I realized my breath wasn’t too fresh from lunch so I wanted a piece of gum. I reached into my bag, trying to inconspicuously take out my pack of Excel. I just bought it the day before so it was brand new and fully loaded. Bending down still, I cracked a piece open and popped it into my mouth. But it was too late… everyone around me heard the sound of fresh gum. Like a pack of hungry wolves their heads turned toward me. I began to sweat nervously, anticipating the onslaught of gum requests from people I barely know.

I watched a “Life Hacks” video on YouTube including how to solve this problem: always keeps 2 packs of gum on you. One pack should have 1 piece left (to use the “sorry it’s my last one” excuse), and the other will be your secret full pack for yourself.

But then I realized another option: I can avoid all this bullshit and just say “no.” You can’t have my gum.

Do I know you Jim? Or you Susan? Have we ever spoken as friends without you asking me for a favour, or vice versa? I don’t know you, so I shouldn’t be obligated to give you gum. These expenses stack up… depending on where you buy it, gum can be anywhere from 99 cents to $2.50. You’re telling me that as a rule of society, I have to forfeit my entire pack of gum to random people just because they ask for it? No. I don’t.

I know what you’re thinking. Chill, Iris. It’s just a pack of gum for god’s sake, and who knows? It could lead to a friendship or an interesting conversation!

If I wanted a friend or an interesting conversation, I’d either be offering you the gum myself or engaging in a conversation. Otherwise, my gum reservoir is only for my friends whom I know and trust, and to whom this philosophy is irrelevant.

But this rule of mine goes beyond just gum. You can replace “gum” with anything: a phone number, phone charger, pen, food, even a conversation. If someone you don’t know (by name or elsewise, adjust the stranger threshold to your personal comfort) asks you for anything, tangible or intangible, you have every goddamn right to say “no.” If someone asks you for a pen but you know they won’t give it back, tell them no and exactly why. If someone asks you for your phone number, politely decline.

I find it really interesting that this world we live in has conditioned us to think that instead of saying “no” and possibly offending someone, no matter how illogical or invasive their demand is, we should spare their feelings and come up with some elaborate lie instead. These back-up plans in my opinion are a waste of time.

The most interesting thing however, is that when I do say “no” in these situations, people look shocked! It’s as if I’m obligated by law to hand out gum and other things to strangers. During exams in school, people sitting next to me have asked me for a pencil or pen. With my stationery in plain sight (keep in mind I use some expensive stuff), I politely decline and tell them it’s because I’d never get it back. The number of surprised looks I’ve received…

I’ll tell another personal story to break down the cold-heartedness I’m portraying here. Someone I’ve never met once asked me if they could use my portable charger. I looked at him, and I told him straight to his face “Sorry dude, I don’t know who you are so you can’t. I’d rather save it for myself.” He gave me such a confused look and even seemed offended! A few minutes later, I learned he was a friend of a friend with me, so I tapped him on the shoulder and said “Hey I didn’t know you knew him, go ahead and use it. Just bring it back soon.” So I handed it to him, and he returned it as promised.

As you can see, this philosophy isn’t meant to cut people off, or make you seem like a bitch. It’s just I personally never want to be stepped on, freeloaded off of or seem vulnerable. I apply that to my work, my social life, and of course my everyday interactions. I’m not saying you shouldn’t give gum to random people – do whatever you want. What I can say though is that I could be a bit more broke than I am now.

My last example I’ll leave you with is what got me so heated about this whole concept in the first place. Years ago when I was active on tumblr, I saw a thread about awkward social interactions. A girl told her story of taking the underground train, and how a random man approached her and started to hit on her. Uncomfortable, she tried not to engage in conversation but replied with small talk here and there to be nice. By the end of her ride, she began to leave the train but the man apparently said something like “You won’t even give me a hug?” I don’t remember how she responded, but her thoughts on tumblr were that she hates how strangers can make you feel so awkward. She thought that people observing them on the train would think she’s a bitch if she didn’t oblige. But she clearly didn’t want to because she didn’t know him. Then below the story, more people chimed in agreeing with her that they’ve faced similar scenarios and didn’t know how to react.

Are you fucking kidding me???

I don’t give a shit who you are or how mean you’ll make me appear. If you’re a stranger and asking me for unwanted physical interaction, I’ll gladly deny you. I’ll scream at you until your head explodes. I’ll yell to everyone on the train that I don’t know who you are and you’re being hella creepy. Girls (and guys), do what you can to stand up for yourselves.

Never give someone the power to make you seem weak or vulnerable. Especially when saying “no” is so easy. 

Of course there are many loopholes in my theory. Sometimes saying “no” isn’t the easiest way out because people can be pushy and forceful. Sometimes sacrificing small talk and a tiny piece of gum can spark a great bond or story. I get it. Could I be missing out on some interesting experiences and people by using my philosophy? Absolutely. But this is what I’m comfortable doing and I’m completely happy with the results so far. The risk factor is basically 0, and I get to keep all of my personal assets.

In the past few years, I only recall one time I willingly gave gum to a stranger. A guy was asking everyone around him for gum. I heard him and sprinted to him, saying I had gum and asked how many pieces he needed. He said just one, and with $1 in his hand he said he was willing to pay for it. I told him to get his money out of my face and take the gum to his friend. I also told him to have an awesome weekend and to stay safe. Then again, I was at a music festival and not sober, so… maybe deep down there’s a version of me that actually likes being nice to people.

4 thoughts on “My Gum Philosophy: Why I Don’t Give Gum to Strangers

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