Candy From Strangers

[This article was first published on Hubpages on 09/26/09. It got 39 comments. It has since been deindexed.]

Candy from Strangers

Image Credit: The Wikipedia
Image Credit: The Wikipedia


When I was a little girl, my grandmother tried to impress upon me how important it was not to accept candy from strangers. If I disregarded this advice, she informed me that what I could expect was a fate worse than death. It was the surest way to be sold into white slavery known to man.

Now, I didn’t exactly understand right at first what white slavery was, but I spent a lot of time wondering about it. It sounded mysterious and even romantic. Some of my earliest creative writing attempts were about children who were sold into slavery because they accepted candy from a stranger.

Mind you, that same grandmother was the person who believed that London cab drivers routinely deliver tourists to factories where they are turned into sausages. She also took me to Paris and then suspected the manager of a restaurant where we dined of plotting to murder us.

My grandmother was a little bit paranoid, to say the least. But this is not entirely a bad thing, as it was this very paranoia that saved her and my father from certain death during WWII. Relatives urged her to remain behind in Poland while my grandfather made a stealthy border crossing. Nobody else believed that the Nazis would murder women and children. But my grandmother was sure they would, and so she insisted on coming along.

Paranoia has survival value.

What is a Stranger? Should you talk to them?

As odd as my grandmother was, she didn’t invent that story about candy and strangers. It is conventional wisdom that she picked up in the same place that she learned to be suspicious of traveling salesmen and gypsies and anybody not of her own kind. It is part bigotry, part common sense, and you don’t have to be a human being to have this maxim deeply ingrained into your psyche. Stray dogs that I met in Taiwan acted as if their grandmothers had told them the same thing.

“Don’t take candy from strangers.” It is the kind of thing parents still tell their children today, and the way this advice is interpreted is very much dependent on the child.

In following a policy of not taking candy from strangers, a child needs to understand what we mean by “strangers.” Is it anybody outside your own family, or just anybody you’ve never been introduced to formally? Does a formal introduction qualify a person as a non-stranger? What if he introduces himself?

Or are strangers people who don’t live in your town and clearly don’t belong there? Are all foreigners automatically strangers?

After I graduated from college, as a special treat, my grandmother took me to Paris — and then admonished me not to speak to strangers! I remember standing in line to buy theatre tickets, and the man behind us wanting to make conversation. “Don’t talk to him!” my grandmother shushed me. “He’s a stranger!”

“Grandmother, they’re all strangers! We don’t know anybody in Paris. How am I supposed to practice my French if I don’t talk to strangers?”

The English word “stranger” comes from a French word, étranger, whose root means both foreigner and someone strange. In many languages those concepts come from a single root. In Hebrew, for instance, the word מוזר [muzar] meaning “odd” or “strange” is derived from the same root as the word זר [zar] meaning “stranger” or “foreigner”. We do recognize foreigners and strangers because something about them seems “not quite right” or “strange.”

In polite society, we socialize our children to overlook other people’s “strange” attributes and to treat everybody just the same. We send a lot of mixed messages to our children. For instance, when my daughter first started preschool, she refused to speak to anybody there, because they were all strangers! It took a lot of effort to get her over this natural reticence. The lesson she learned: you must talk to strangers!

We expect our children to obey all sorts of strangers. When a new busdriver shows up, children are encouraged to treat him or her just as they would the old bus driver they have known for years. When a substitute teacher appears suddenly, for just one day, they are expected to treat her with the same degree of trust as the old teacher. When a new child enrolls in school, they are expected to be nice, and to speak politely to the child’s parents, whom they have never met before, when they pick up the new kid from school.

Under these circumstances, all the natural prejudice against strangers that our children have is bred right out of them. Why shouldn’t they accept candy from strangers? They talk to strangers everyday. It wouldn’t be polite not to.

My Concession to Open Concession Stand

Even if talking to strangers is not something that our children can avoid, surely accepting candy from strangers is different? Surely, we still can tell our children not to accept candy from strangers, not necessarily because the strangers are bad, but because candy is bad for them? Well, it’s not as easy as you would think.

At my daughter’s school, once a month, the student council presides over “open concession stand.” At this time, candy and soda are available for sale at school. Parents are encouraged to send their children to school with money to purchase sweets. When my daughter was in kindergarten, I decided not to give her any money to take to school. I figured it would be better for her dental and overall health if she didn’t have any candy.

Imagine how surprised I was to learn that she had purchased candy with all the others and consumed it there on the spot. But how? The janitor had felt sorry for her, seeing she was the only child without money, and had given her fifty cents!

I was really upset and returned the fifty cents to the janitor, explaining that I had deliberately not given my daughter the money, so she wouldn’t have sweets. The janitor reluctantly accepted my fifty cents, looking askance at me. Clearly, I was the stranger here, and nobody could understand my strange ways.

No matter how many times I tried to explain this policy, none of the people at school seemed to understand. In second grade, a teacher actually instructed another child to share some of her candy money with my daughter — as a lesson in socialism, no doubt.

After this, I gave up. I send my daughter to school with money for candy, knowing that if I don’t do so, strangers will give it to her!

Candy and the Bus Driver

Every once in a while my daughter returns home from school with candy, even though it’s not Open Concession Stand day. “Where’d you get that?” I ask her.

“The bus driver gave it to me.”

If I react in any way, she adds: “Everybody got one!”

Last year, on the last day of school, the school bus was nearly thirty minutes late delivering my daughter home. I was worried. I phoned the school. “Oh, the bus driver just took all the kids out for chips and a soda,” I was told by the school receptionist. “Don’t worry. They’ll be there soon.”

They need a signed permission slip to go on a field trip to the park with their teacher. But the bus driver can just unilaterally decide to take the kids to the store and buy them junk food?

I was pretty upset. My daughter, when she finally came home, said: “The bus driver was just trying to be nice.”

Is it nice? I don’t know. I don’t want to be like my grandmother, but something seems a little bit strange about this. It could be, though, that the reason I don’t understand it is that I am a stranger to these parts!

Trick or Treating

Image Credit: Wikipedia
Image Credit: Wikipedia

Trick or Treating

I feel bad that my daughter has never gone trick or treating. As a child in the U.S., Halloween was one of my favorite holidays. Dressing up and trying to look scary were just part of the fun. The best part was that you got to go and knock on strangers’ doors and ask for candy! We went without our parents and without any sort of supervision. We went walking in the dark of night to far away neighborhoods where we knew no one. It was the one night of the year when taking candy from strangers was allowed. Let’s face it: the best part wasn’t the candy. It was flouting the rules and interacting with total strangers! We could do it, because we trusted in the goodness of our fellow man. Even though we’d never met them, we knew they would do us no harm!

When we moved out here to the country, my daughter was two. We settled in in late September, and were all ready for our first Halloween in the U.S. (We had been living in Taiwan up till then.) I dressed her up as Po from Teletubbies and I filled an orange bowl with candy, and I told her that people would come to ask for candy, and we would give it to them. I put the porch light on so they would know someone was home. But nobody came. Not one person. By the end of the night, my daughter was disappointed. “Why didn’t they want our candy?” she asked.

Apparently, trick or treating has gone out of style. There’s always a Halloween party every year at the community center and the kids are given a big bag full of candy just for coming. Some parents do take their children trick or treating, but only under tight supervision, and only to the houses of family and friends.

Nowadays, children accept candy from strangers every day — except for Halloween.

(c) 2009 Aya Katz

In Case There’s a Fox


 Last updated on December 31, 2010

Comments 39 comments


Ef El Light profile image

Ef El Light 5 years ago from New York State

Dictums of sustenance and diet in true

Perception would leave sugar out of view.


ngureco profile image

ngureco 5 years ago

Hello, Aya katz.

You must have learnt that being a parent is never easy.

On one hand, you have to teach your child to keep off strangers because you do know there is always the potential for danger in what you don’t know. It can be fatal to trust everyone and everything. Whenever there is abduction, rape, and molestation of a child there usually is a sign of the child accepting candy from the stranger. It is natural to exercise caution and protect our children. It is abnormal to trust openly and without question.

On the other hand, children must learn how to share with others, learn to be kind and to obey their seniors (regardless of whether strangers or not), learn to be civilized, etc.

In Paris, your grandmother wants you not to talk to strangers but she also wants you to practice your French. It’s now your turn. It’s all about being a parent. It’s all about life. It’s all about risks. You have to sacrifice one at the expense of the other.

  • robie2 profile image

robie2 5 years ago from Central New JerseyLevel 1 Commenter

ahhhh yes taking candy from strangers–I too remember those admonotions. So now you ask– who is a stranger? and when is it OK to take candy from strangers? Fascinating hub. I loved it.

That natural human tendency towards tribalism bordering on paranoia has saved our lives in the past and also gotten us into deep trouble. It’s how wars are made after all.

It’s interesting too that though people are suspicious of foreigners in most circumstances, when it comes to sexual attraction, the foreigner or stranger usually seems exotic and very attractive. Could that be nature’s way of broadening the gene pool? Just a thought:-)


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 5 years ago from The OzarksHub Author

F.L. Light, thanks for the couplet. Our body operates by burning sugar, so it’s not surprising that all of us, and especially children, crave it. A diet of straight sugar is not good for us, because it is better to make the body work for it, by converting other substances, such as fats, into sugars. However, an occasional piece of candy never hurt a child. As a parent, I would prefer to be the one to decide how much and when.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 5 years ago from The OzarksHub Author

Ngureco, thanks for your comment. You’re right, it’s never easy to find just the right balance between trust and caution.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 5 years ago from The OzarksHub Author

Robie2,thanks! Tribalism definitely has its downside, as you noted, but I think that deep down inside, we all long for a society of intimates, where everybody knows us by name and where we know everybody else. On the other hand, it’s true that the stranger has an exotic sex appeal that must have to do with the need to expand our gene bank. After all, in many tribes, exogamy is routinely practiced.


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 5 years ago from United States

I’m right there with you on parental rights to decide how much candy, etc. but found that impossible to enforce in the public school system. Almost as hard in the private schools too.

Grew up in the tuck and duck era that at the same time was quite permissive in terms of freedom to explore the neighborhood, etc. Yet, taking candy back then was also a big no-no.

There was a saying in our house “sugar makes you stupid” enacted by my very authoritative husband at the time upon all 5 kids (3 step/2 mine). He forbid candy, soda, and junk food. They were all between 10 and 15 years in age at the time. This was a war he could not win. It made them different in the eyes of other kids, the social kiss of death according to them.

Other kids would buy them candy. Other adults would by them candy. The worst was the schools having fund raisers of candy, in which the whole class was asked to sell it and if everyone sold the alloted amount of candy they got pizza. Another teacher gave free passes to get out of a quiz for those who met their quota. Since all the kids were selling candy at the same time, no one of course wanted to buy it. Real sure most parents were buying the candy or pushing it off onto their co-workers and relatives.

So our kids were told they could not sell candy by Mr. Sugar Makes You Stupid.

The middle girl who was the most peer pressure oriented of the kids, defied her father and snuck them in the house. One of her siblings stole and ate the candy, maybe even more than one (I still don’t know to this day). She owed the school $80 in candy money before the secret came out. LOL He promptly gave up on the candy wars.

Kaela doesn’t like candy so it’s not a problem these days.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 5 years ago from The OzarksHub Author

Jerilee, thanks for sharing your experiences with the same issue. I agree, it does seem to be impossible to get any headway with candy in the public schools.

I never intended to forbid Sword candy altogether, as that would surely backfire. I just wanted her to experience it under my supervision. I prefer for her to enjoy high quality chocolates made with real milk chocolate and actual sugar. The things they sell at school aren’t even made with sugar, most of the time. HFCS is everywhere.

At home, we do have our girls’ night celebrations where sweets play a part. But I wish she had more freedom to roam the neighborhood and fewer adults offering her candy!

archdaw profile image

archdaw 5 years ago from Brooklyn

When I was little I never got a chance to go trick or treating, because my brother and I was taught that it was begging. My children grew up Trick or treating, but I always inspected the unopened ones as well as the occasional apples and oranges.

Very informative especially this time of year. Great hub.

  • Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 5 years ago from The OzarksHub Author

Archdaw, thanks! It sounds as if you found a happy medium between the too strict attitude of your parents and anything that might endanger your children.

I would love to be able to allow my daughter to go trick or treating the way I did, but since it’s no longer customary, where we live, I don’t want to endanger her by having her be the only child to go trick or treating unsupervised.


loveofnight profile image

loveofnight 5 years ago from Baltimore, Maryland

it is sad that we live in a day and time where we cannot allow our kids to roam freely as we use to take a village to raise a child now we’re afraid to allow them to get close.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 5 years ago from The OzarksHub Author

Loveofnight, thanks for your comment! I think the village metaphor is often misapplied. In the villages of yore, everybody knew everyone else, and everyone knew who the parent of every child was. The way the village helped when it came to raising the child was by understanding that each child belonged to its parents, and by not coming between the parent and the child. Nobody would dare offer candy to another person’s child, except on Halloween, when it was allowed –as a special exception. Today, everything is backwards. We don’t know our neighbors, but strangers give our children candy every day, knowing that we can’t do anything about it!

  • maggs224 profile image

maggs224 5 years ago from Sunny SpainLevel 2 Commenter

‘Don’t take candy from a stranger’is a saying common around the world I think, I know more than fifty ok sixty years ago my mum said that to me. lol.


annie laurie profile image

annie laurie 5 years ago from England

My mum use to say don’t talk to strangers and don’t take any sweets from them and I just wish that I had heeded this. I didn’t and I have written a poem called Just another day which tells the story of what happend to this little girl when she didn’t heed that warning.


newkyork com 5 years ago

Terima kasih


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 5 years ago from The OzarksHub Author

Maggs, yes, it does seem to be a universal saying. At one time, it was understood that someone who didn’t know a child and offered candy must be up to no good. Because we all knew the saying, as adults, we didn’t dare offer candy to children we didn’t know, for fear of being taken for a bad person.



Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 5 years ago from The OzarksHub Author

Annie Laurie, I’m very sorry to hear about what happened to you. Did you tell your mother? Did she call the police?


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 5 years ago from The OzarksHub Author

Newyork, you’re welcome.

  • kartika damon profile image

kartika damon 5 years ago from Fairfield, Iowa

This reminded me of years ago when I tried to tell my son, who was around 4, about strangers. He couldn’t grasp the concept and I remember going around in circles trying to explain it to him – you write really well! Kartika


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 5 years ago from The OzarksHub Author

Kartika, thanks. The concept of the “stranger” is a really tricky one. It’s very hard to explain to children, particularly if we have not quite worked it out for ourselves.


Choke Frantic profile image

Choke Frantic 5 years ago from Newcastle, Australia

I’m glad that as of yet I don’t have children to worry about. This is just another step of parenthood, I guess.

  • Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 5 years ago from The OzarksHub Author

Choke Frantic, thanks for your comment. Yes, the candy dilemma is one of the many issues of modern day parenting.

Crazy888 profile image

Crazy888 4 years ago

ohhh Aya! i have not spoke to you in a long time…

i guess i must be carried away by buying presents for Christmas! Do you celebrate Christmas? My kids are very exited and joyus…that they are making my head spin. One of my children says she wants a purple ipod nano….do you have any advise of should i get it for her? she already has a cell-phone and the texting is over the top. i thought it would be a good idea of coming to you for this since there is only four more days left! great hub! i hope dearly of listening to your advise soon….im running out of time! Christmas comes soon! of course my daugter tells me she wants this right after her friend got it for an early winter gift! please reply…and if i don not see you again, MERRY CHRISTMAS….or i you do not celebarte it have a good holiday! its full of snow up here…where do you live. Do you get snow.??

with love and care

THE crazy888 family

love and peace


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 4 years ago from The OzarksHub Author

Crazy888, nice to hear from you, though your comment has little to do with candy or strangers. We celebrate Christmas with a tree and presents.

I can’t possibly advise what to get your daughter, knowing neither you nor her nor the rest of your family. Only you and/or your spouse/co-parent can know which gifts are good for your child to have. However, if it’s a question of staying on budget, give each child a spending limit and make them present you with a wish list that falls within the budget.

Crazy888 4 years ago

im very sorry about my coment, from now on i will relate questions to your hub. What your grandmother did when you were a little girl reminds me what mine did! very good hub!

from snowy new england

  • Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 4 years ago from The OzarksHub Author

Crazy888, no problem. I guess we had similar grandmothers.

It’s snowing today in the Ozarks, too.


Crazy888 profile image

Crazy888 4 years ago

where is the Ozarks? anyway…i think (my opinion) that halloween is a symbol of fun. I dont let my kids just go anywhere they want but i think that halloween is one of those things that a kid just grows up with. I dont disagree with your hub….i just have a different opinion.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 4 years ago from The OzarksHub Author

Crazy888, I refer you to this discussion of the Ozarks region:

I think Halloween is fun, too. So I don’t think we disagree!


Crazy888 profile image

Crazy888 4 years ago

thanks for the link aya.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 4 years ago from The OzarksHub Author

Crazy888, you’re welcome.

davidhamilton 4 years ago


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 4 years ago from The OzarksHub Author

DavidHamilton, thanks for your comment. Most people feel that way these days, but it’s sad that things have changed so much and people can no longer trust their neighbors.

SweetiePie profile image

SweetiePie 2 years ago from Southern California, USALevel 2 Commenter

Well I am a liberal and I used to teach, but I never believed in giving money to the kids for things like going to buy candy. The reason being there is a school lunch program if kids are hungry, but legally I am not sure a teacher is allowed to make another student give money to a student who does not have money for candy. Most teachers I have worked with felt that kids should not give kids money because of these issues. Kids still drank sodas at the high school when I was teaching, but at the elementary level they were trying to discourage soda and candy, and would not have been selling it anyway.


SweetiePie profile image

SweetiePie 2 years ago from Southern California, USALevel 2 Commenter

Another thing is our policy as teachers was if there was a rare day when treats were allowed, then the teacher would bring these. Actually, one thing I do not miss about teaching is the onus was always on the teacher to provide treats and fun for the kids on the certain holidays when the more outgoing teachers make a todo about it. I was scolded once for not providing some elaborate Christmas party for students, when my co-teacher only handed out candy canes. At Halloween I was made to feel guilty because I only brought candy for the kids, whereas other teachers bought fancy decorated cupcakes. After that I felt compelled to spend a lot of money buying treats for the few days out of the year when the other teachers were giving parties. I do not miss having to buy lots of treats for kids just because every other teacher wants to have a party day around Halloween or Christmas. Sorry that is sort of off topic.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 2 years ago from The OzarksHub Author

SweetiePie, all of these customs — expecting children to buy candy and soda at school, giving them money if they didn’t bring any, forcing other children to give them money, and teachers and other school staff buying treats and throwing parties for children — all seem very strange to me. Both in terms of nutrition and in terms of inappropriate financial pressures on parents and teachers, as well as fellow students, this seems so wrong!

When I went to school in Israel, in third and fourth grade, there was no cafeteria, we ate our own homemade lunches on our desks, nobody sold candy on the school grounds and children were discouraged from bringing candy to school. We learned a lot more, too, but the school day was much shorter. When school was over, there was plenty of time to play. And there was no school bus. Those children who were not picked up by their parents simply walked home.


SweetiePie profile image

SweetiePie 2 years ago from Southern California, USALevel 2 Commenter

I do not miss those aspects of teaching. I think here they banned the fund raisers now, and we have something called Williams law where a school might get in trouble if they asked a kid to furnish money for another kid to get the candy. Now the onus is on the teachers to buy the candy, but in California most of the schools discourage it for most of the year for nutrition reasons, and then go high of the hog at Christmas and Halloween.

Honestly, I have never felt guilty about not buying kids candy because it is the one thing they can always get, and probably have too much of. Growing up now one was buying me tons of candy, and I rarely drank soda.

I have no problem with school lunches and cafeteria for kids to eat in. Plenty of kids still bring their own lunch, but there is a school lunch program for those who really need it. California has been a very populace state for a long time and we have always had cafeterias, busses, and the like. It is not going to change here, and I do not want that drastic of changes. I just do not think anyone should have to be pressured about candy.

There is some weird and worse stuff that goes on in private schools though as well, so they are not immune. I had friends who worked really hard, and were always given bad grades compared to other kids. This one girl truly thought she must have been a bad student, but then she got to college and started getting A’s, and realized her teachers have been handing out grades to favorites, and often parents who made larger donations to the school.

I do not think any school system is superior to another, and ultimately I have always believed you learn the most when you go to the library and are self-driven to read things on your own, beyond what the teacher assigns. I have had people my age who went to both private and public school, and they would ask me, how do you know about this current event, or something that is going on in that country? Well, because I read about it on my own. A lot of things I learned was because I wanted to learn about it, not because it was assigned,


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 2 years ago from The OzarksHub Author

SweetiePie, I certainly agree that the best education is the one we give ourselves when we are driven by an internal compulsion to find out about something. That was one of the minor points in Vacuum County that I think a lot of people missed. Verity ended up learning a great deal more when she was researching the history of Vacuum County than when she was enrolled at UT full time.

  • SweetiePie profile image

SweetiePie 2 years ago from Southern California, USALevel 2 Commenter

Maybe you can write another hub about this aspect of Vacuum County. I am not trying to take your hub off course, but I do have to admit the one thing that irked me about both pro-public and pro-private school parents is this: both camps want the teacher to be a miracle worker their kids. It seems parents forget maybe they could allow children to have their own interests, and explore new topics. A lot of parents act like the teacher is the one who has to do everything, and I think even sometimes parents are smothering their kids telling them what they should be reading or learning. I just decided around the age of 12 no school was ever going to answer all the questions I had, and teachers did not usually seem interested in those anyway. I had to read myself if I wanted to learn. Not sure if I would even go to college these days with the way tuition is rising. Is it worth it? I know some people who did not go to college who are making a lot more than I am.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 2 years ago from The OzarksHub Author

SweetiePie, I think you and I agree about this. Neither teachers nor parents can be the miracle workers we sometimes expect them to be. Ultimately, it’s up to the child. Not everyone can or will learn everything. But every child is going to learn a lot more about what he’s really interested in when driven by his own curiosity.

I agree that college is not a good investment for young people these days. They should go if they want the college experience, but they should not expect any financial return on their investment.

About Aya Katz

Aya Katz is the administrator of Pubwages. When she is not busy administering, she sometimes also writes posts like a regular user.
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