Say Something. Anything.

I was walking down a long stretch of sidewalk on my way to get John today, and there was exactly one other person on the sidewalk. This person (male, late-20s, if it matters) was heading directly toward me for several minutes. No phone, no headphones. He eventually passed about 18 inches to my left. And didn’t say anything!

Bad manners. A stranger doesn’t need to stop and chat, or even to actually speak. We don’t need to acknowledge the weather. But a friendly nod, at least, would be pleasant.

When I was in college, there was something called the speaking tradition. W&L had an actual tradition, which was explicitly discussed during orientation, about the fact that if you passed someone on campus you should say hello. I think there was fairly widespread concern about the speaking tradition fading away, and how to stop that from happening. It seems funny to think about it now. Essentially, you’re mandating civility, and should civil behavior have to be a requirement? Perhaps not, but it’s really not a bad habit to get into.

Obviously, when I moved to New York right after college, I was not walking down 3rd Ave. saying hello to everyone I met. In fact, I learned pretty quickly not to make eye contact at all. In a crowd it’s both impractical and sometimes mildly unsafe to be striking up a conversation. But in a setting like this one, on a sunny day, on an empty street, it seems silly to pretend that there’s not another human being present.

I don’t want to make this into a North/South thing, but I do think open and friendly behavior with strangers is a little more common in the South. People up here aren’t grouchy and rude by any means (incorrect stereotype, in my opinion) but they are a little less likely to chitchat. I’m pretty chatty to begin with and I work from home, so when I run into just about anyone — plumber, handyman, UPS delivery, Ben Franklin employees — I’m ready for small talk. They don’t always talk back right away, but I wear them down eventually. Because it’s good manners and way more interesting than just walking around in a bubble. Call it my own little speaking tradition.

Vermont folks, take note. I’ll be saying hello.

6 thoughts on “Say Something. Anything.

  1. And I will say hello back. I find that a simple smile at a stranger is enough. Thank you for encouraging and fostering a friendlier world!

  2. I’m with you on this one! I say hello to just about everyone I pass on the sidewalk. It’s not strange in Charlottesville, but I did get some odd looks on Long Island during college breaks.- Jerilyn

    • Jerilyn, it really is context sensitive, isn’t it? But I try to err on the side of friendly when I can.

  3. God forbid you walk onto an elevator occupied by only one other person….then they have to stare intently at the display indicating the floors you are passing or risk having to acknowledge you.

    Hey buddy, not only are we sharing the experience of travelling to dizzying heights at unnatural speed in a small box, but I am so close I CAN SMELL YOU….gimme a wink, a grunt, or a grimmace….not asking for much.

    Or hey lady, if you stare at that smart phone any harder it will melt.

    Proper face to face human interaction at almost any level seems to be atrophying at a rapid pace….(sigh)

  4. The “speaking tradition” at W&L, alas, had continued not-so-slowly to fade away. Indeed, a common saying around here now is, “If you’re the kind of person who delights in always having the last word, just say ‘hello’ when you encounter a W&L student on campus.”

  5. I am happy to report that folks here in Colorado, or at least in a smallish city like Fort Collins, are still more apt than not to say hi. I am especially impressed with the Colorado State students, who often will give a nod or say hi. The ones that amuse me are high school students–old enough to understand, but still too awkward and shy to make eye contact. Kyle

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