I'm extremely unfocused when I'm at home. Too many distractions are too tempting: a kitchen full of food, an internet connection to play around on, a room that always needs straightening. So I often pick up and go to a coffee shop, where $1.50 for a small coffee also buys me a few hours of relatively focused study time.
And usually at some point during the coffee shop outing, I'll have to make a bathroom run. Who wants to pack up all those papers, books, pencils, and sometimes computer, only to lay them all back out again a couple minutes later (and feel guilty about sitting down without having bought anything new)? Not me. So I usually turn to the person next to me and ask, "Will you watch my stuff for a minute?" And every once in awhile, the same will be asked of me; I'll always comply.
So I got to musing: this is a weird phenomenon. I don't know the person sitting next to me any more than I know the prospective thief of my stuff. Why would I trust him or her with my stuff? I guess there's the factor of sameness -- because that person is a coffee shop-goer just like me, I feel a kinship with him/her. But probably not trust. Moreover, why do people agree to watch others' stuff, and comply while those people are away from their seats? They can't have built a friendship while sitting nearby sufficient to really care if that person's stuff is stolen or not. The best I can come up with is that people avoid conflict whenever possible. They don't want to make a scene out of refusing to watch someone's things for just a few minutes, nor do they want to deal with the resulting scene if a person returns to find his/her stuff missing. Hm.
I tried googling "watch my stuff", really the only permutation of this request, and got this video made god-knows-why by some Columbia business students. It's not really that funny, but it is appropriate.