DEAR HARRIETTE: I live in New York City and often see so-called boldface named people walking around. The other day I saw Charlie Rose walking along Central Park. I have seen actors in Soho and politicians in Harlem. Whenever I see these people, I want to say hello, but they don't know me. I fear that they will be offended if I were to walk over to them to say hi and that I appreciate their work. Do you know any guidelines for how to approach famous people who are out and about? -- NOT A GROUPIE
DEAR NOT A GROUPIE: Part of the unwritten covenant for celebrities is that they understand that people in the public may recognize them and want to engage. Honestly, for some of these people, their livelihood depends on the public knowing and appreciating them and being willing to spend money to see them do their work. With that understanding, celebrities should expect that people who are out and about just as they are may recognize them and want to say hello.
As one of those public onlookers, what you should do is put yourself in that person's shoes. If you were walking down the street and someone recognized you, what would you want that person to do? Saying hello is acceptable. Touching is not. Asking someone to stop and take a picture is acceptable only if, after greeting the person, the two of you pause and speak to each other for a bit and it feels natural to ask. After saying hello, you can thank the person for their work, you can state that you like whatever they do, and you can wish them well. You should not try to take over the moment or get them sidetracked for any reason.
Times when you should not attempt to engage someone you don't know, celebrity or not, include when the person is deeply engaged with someone else, when the person is eating, when the person is using the restroom, and when the person is clearly involved in something else.