Dear Come Correct:

I'm going to be spending the holidays with my cousins who live in a city where there are lots of celebrities. I am taking my camera with me, and I hope, hope, hope to get a couple of snapshots with a few stars while I'm there. She has already warned me to be cool with that. Is there a way to ask, so I don't embarrass my cousin but get my photo?

Snap Happy

Dear Snap:

To use the words of a popular fanzine: Stars--they're just like us! (Only more famous and way wealthier, duh.) I've heard them talk about this from time to time, and there are a few rules:

1) Usually if they're alone, they may consider a photo--especially if you're with your children, and the kids really want a photo: "Mr. Smith, my son Loren dressed up like Hancock for Halloween. Could he come shake your hand?"  A lot of people (and Will is one) are extremely gracious with children, will have them over, have mom snap the photo, wish you a good day and move on.  Don't get into a big conversation.  Do say thanks before you leave.

2) There are very few actors who don't enjoy hearing "Hi, Mr. Foxx--you were great in Collateral!"  Do tell them that if you want. Don't go much farther than that: "Who was that girl who co-starred with you, man? You tappin' that for real?"  Nuh-uh.

3) Don't disturb when they're out with their children, trying to have a "normal" afternoon.  Don't interrupt what looks like a romantic evening out to ask for an autograph.  Don't approach them when they're at their table in restaurants.  (Would you want to have to wash your hands several times before you got to eat? Think about it...)  If you're in line waiting for your car afterward, if you're at the bar before you're seated, feel free.

Stars are just like you and me in that we like to be reminded that people like us. Some are known for being gracious: Halle Berry, Tyra Banks, George Clooney, Meryl Streep--all are known for being extremely kind and approachable to their fans.

But where you and I can go home and shut the door for some down time, they don't always get that. Multiply your experience by 15 or 20 people per day, and that's how it feels to be Halle or Denzel or Oprah. They get that they are, in a sense, public property because it is the public that made them celebrities.  But they also get that they have some of the same needs as their less-famous admirers.  (Sleep, a hot meal and the need to use the bathroom without being stared at are a few examples.) Some days they're up for it; some days they want to be left alone.  Don't take it personally because it's usually not meant that way.

So enjoy your trip and keep your camera in  your back pocket.  But ask before you take a photo, and if you get one, say "thanks so much," wish them continued success, and return home with pleasant memories--and a visual reminder of what a great time you had.

I'd be interested in hearing what other people's experiences have been with approaching celebs.  Holla.

is a Los Angeles-based correspondent for NPR News and co-author, with Karen Elyse Hudson, of The New Basic Black: Home Training For Modern Times (Doubleday).