Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Saying "Hello"

A few days back, I was walking along my road and as I walked past a gentleman who must have been in his 60s, he said "Hello!" This took me aback somewhat, and I managed to stammer out "H-hello!" with a quick smile before we passed. I'd never seen the chap before; he was complete stranger. The fact that I was taken aback in itself took me aback...why should a simple friendly greeting be so odd?

It is though, isn't it? As a country, we are renowned by Americans for our "British Reserve" when it's actually a combination of shyness, ignorance and a fear that has been drilled into us by everyone including schools, the media, and even our parents.

"Don't talk to strangers!"
"If you see someone you don't recognise and aren't sure about them, cross the street."
"Be wary of overly friendly strangers, they could be terrorists!"
and so on.

We don't talk to people on the street that we don't know. We rarely talk to them on the bus, or the train, or the tube. Tube journeys especially are an odd experience when travelling alone. Hundreds upon hundreds of people standing around, earphones blocking out any chance of conversation and acting as a warning not to interact with their owners. As a race, humans need interaction with their fellows to survive, so why do we take such pains to exclude it from our lives?

I write this, as very soon we'll be solely reliant on strangers for survival, and it is going to take a concerted effort to break the social conditioning of keeping your head down and marching on, in order to get by. We'll need to talk to strangers to get directions, to get food, to get lodgings. We'll need to make conversation with people we've never met before and may be reliant on them at some stage for one thing or another, and will need to learn to trust them in a short space of time when there is no good reason to do so and which, in our current society, would be considered "madness". Does that scuba diving trainer actually know what they're doing? Has the bungee jump runner definitely attached the harness properly? Did the guy who directed us to a hostel really send us the right way?

In context, a man saying "Hello!" to me on the street is trivial. He perhaps lives on the road and may have seen me previously. He may have simply been being polite. Whatever the reason, it certainly highlighted the change in attitude I will need to make in the next few weeks.

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