I left the pharmacy and started walking back to my car. Approaching me was a lady who had just gotten out of her car. Our eyes momentarily lined up. When this happens, most folks usually perform the quickie eye shift and stare off somewhere else. I think I was about to do that when, believe it or not, the lady extended a cordial “hello.” Being the quick thinker that I am, I did not let my startled inward response get in the way. I shot back with a calm, “Hello, how are you today?” She said, “Fine thank you.”
That’s it. Nothing more happened. She kept walking her way and I mine. I know some of you want me to turn all this into some lurid encounter that progressed to coffee at Starbucks and then maybe a rendezvous at the Hilton across the street. Nope, it wasn’t about that. It was simply two people passing in a parking lot and extending a greeting to each other. How basically inhuman is that in this day and age?
Okay, here comes my usual line…all this got me to thinking. There is a definite protocol to the “hello system” in America. There are environments and situations when it is perfectly proper—even sometimes expected—that two strangers extend greetings. There are other times when it is considered socially unacceptable. Well, maybe not socially unacceptable. Perhaps socially unexpected is a better way to put it. Here are some examples when lips remain sealed and eyes focused forward:
- In an elevator with a stranger, except if you are the button pusher and you’re asked to push a button, and even then nothing more may be said.
- Shopping…in a retail store or going up and down the aisles of a supermarket. Can you imagine what it would be like if you were expected to say hello to everyone you pass in a supermarket aisle?
- In a doctor’s waiting room. Nope, no conversation here. No desire to learn what horrible ailment or disease the person next to you may be breathing on you.
- In almost any line: at the bank, the fast-food counter, at the voting poll, at a ticket booth. Nope, folks here are focused on getting to the front of the line and being taken care of. No talking.
- When you first enter the classroom of a course you’re taking and nobody knows anybody.
I’m sure there are many other situations you could add to the list. But what about places where it seems okay to initiate a kind hello or maybe offer up a friendly comment? How about these:
- At the nursery window in a hospital.
- When you walk around your neighborhood and pass your neighbors.
- On a boat. Everyone on a boat waves to everyone else on a passing boat.
- On a vacation tour with a bus load of other carefree souls.
- When you enter a meeting or a party where there are people you do not know.
All of these are arbitrary aren’t they? You may say hello or not say hello in any of these situations. The point is, we “feel” our way through our degree of social-ability. We measure and calculate when it is proper to say hello to another human being. There are so many determinants that come into play: time, place, sex, age, your mood, their mood, atmosphere, weather…whatever.
It’s sad that we go through such an elaborate process to simply process the word “hello.” Wouldn’t it be so much easier if we just dropped our guard and said hello to everyone we come in contact with. Yeah, I know, there would be a sudden and overwhelming—even deafening—supply of “hellos” overtaking our environment. Maybe just a nod of the head or a hand wave would suffice.
I have no idea who the lady was who chose to say hello to me. I am not curious to know who she is, where she lives, what she does, where she was going or anything else. What I do know about her is all there is I need to know…she’s not afraid to say hello. I wish there were more like her.