Photo by WildImages
One time, I was out somewhere with a friend who happened to be Persian, when she stopped to ask me who was the person that I'd just said hello to on the street. I think I must not have been fast enough on the uptake that she went on to clarify how she'd been referring to the woman I had just greeted in passing.
Well nobody I know, I said.
-Then why did you say hello to her? (she seemed curious)
Because that is what I've been taught to do.
-In my country we don't say hello to people unless we've actually been introduced to them, she said.
Is that so? Well, in my country, we say hello to any and every person that brushes by us on the street. Irrespective of whether we know them or not.
What do you mean how come? That's just the way it is. And furthermore I added, if you make eye-contact then you murmur a polite good morning or good afternoon.
Because, you want to be polite. What do you mean why? Just because, that's the way it is.
-Seems like you should be reserving your hellos for people you actually know if you ask me.
I hadn't really asked her of course but that is neither here nor there. Still, fast forward in time to this morning. I'm waiting to take an elevator and with me are about 6 people or so. Two of them are males, the rest all ladies going into one tiny crowded elevator. As I was the first person in, I punched the button to my floor and politely asked of everyone who trailed in after me (neither man waited for the ladies to go in first I might add) what floor they were going to so that I could likewise punch in their floor numbers for them. The ladies almost took it for granted that I asked though one did look surprised that I'd even bothered to offer. One male told me his floor and the other one, elbowed me gently to the side, didn't even answer, and just punched his floor number himself. I've recounted this episode for you in painstaking detail for a reason, so bear with me.
By the time I arrived at my own floor, only one person had gotten off before me which made me the second person to depart right? So, I turned just a tad sideways and I said to the group in general, Good day to you all. No one replied thank you, no one murmured a you too, the doors just closed in on silence. I really could have been speaking to an empty elevator for all intents and purposes.
You would think that after almost 20 years of living on and off in the US, that I would have learned my lesson by now with regards to this whole greeting thing. After all, this is most definitely not the first time this kind of situation has ever happened to me, and I am quite sure it will not be the last. WHY do I keep doing it then?
Frankly, the answer to that question is the consolidation of two inherent traits that make me persevere doggedly in my quest to greet humanity in general. I'm a creature of habit and I'm stubborn to boot. I ask you, what is so wrong about mumbling a polite hello to someone you do not know? Heck, I think it's better than screaming expletives to absolute strangers on the street because they blinked at you the wrong way. The question I always end up asking is, why doesn't everybody else do like me? I'm speaking in general terms of course since you do find some people who greet you in spite of not knowing you.
I watch lots of old movies. Take a look at an old black and white film and you invariably see gentlemen inclining their heads at ladies in greeting or tipping their hats to passersby on the street. What I can infer from this celluloid reflection of real life is that obviously, greeting for greetings sake did take place before but somehow, no longer. Why is that? How did we here in the US, lose the habit of greeting perfect strangers, of observing certain patterns of polite behavior to the degree that when someone like me does greet someone she doesn't know, in this day and age, this action is viewed as archaic, strange, somehow unexpected and wrong. How did that happen?
I really don't have a full explanation for it. All I know is how things are where I come from. Like I was telling you, back home in Panama we greet every Juan, Pedro and Maria on the street. But here in the States, the norm is that we only greet those whom we know.
I've always thought the world would be a better place if we all treated each other with a bit more courtesy. It's harder to shout bad words at someone whom you've said hello to, don't you think?
I get a sad little feeling in the pit of my stomach sometimes if my kid, whom I raise as closely in behavior to the way I myself was brought up, says hello to a child or an adult and gets nothing in return for his sweet piping voice and small hand raised in greeting. Everyone should be taught to greet each other even if they didn't come out of the same womb or have had a previous acquaintance. Most definitely, everyone should greet a child who says hello no matter if the child is unknown to them.
I will persevere. I won't ever reserve my hellos for only those I know. And I hope my son continues to learn to give his own as freely as he does now. I feel this is a service I do for myself, for my child, and for the rest of my human brethren.
Photo by WildImages