Just Say Hi

I’m back from a week’s vacation at the beach in North Carolina. I got home with enough daylight to give me time for a run along the Charles River near my home. The run gave me a chance to recalibrate myself to the local culture. For a week I had been in a place where people consistently smile at, maintain eye contact with, and say hello to people they do not know. I was reminded this afternoon that this kind of behavior is greeted with surprise and suspicion in metropolitan Boston. By the end of my run I was able to be tight-lipped and evasive once again.

My wife, though born in Chicago, also grew up in North Carolina (she claims her Midwestern roots whenever she needs to disavow some embarrassing aspect of Southern culture). She has grown so tired of the sour and silent avoidance of eye contact that passes for greeting around here that she is considering launching a campaign called Just Say Hi. She wants me to design a t-shirt for her new cause. I pointed out that a woman walking around with a t-shirt that says Just Say Hi may invite somewhat more attention than desired.

Still, it does make you wonder how different cultures evolve. It also makes me wonder about the geographical distribution of friendly greetings. Is there a quantitative measure of stranger-friendliness that you could plot on a heat map of the US and see, perhaps, a sharp rise across the Mason-Dixon line? And where are the inflection points of friendliness as one moves from sullen New England westward to the cheerful and welcoming Midwest?

4 thoughts on “Just Say Hi”

  1. I suspect it may look like a mirror image of 2 bell curves…Because out here in ‘mellow’ California(at least most of the Bay Area that I visit) we have the same “Don’t make eye contact” attitude, which gets annoying sometimes.I’m all for the Just Say Hi campaign, just make sure the T-Shirts are not the color of any particualr gang…stick with gray or white.

  2. It almost seems as if there is a strong correlation between Red states and interpersonal cordiality on the one hand, and Blue states and coolness on the other. What’s up with that? There’s gotta be a sociology thesis in there somewhere.

  3. The intermediate link is population density. Population density breeds both “blue-ness” and coolness. I think the theses have already been written, alas…


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