For some time my wife Wendy has had strong feelings about the topic of simple friendliness among strangers. I agree with her, but I’m too lazy to do much about it. She’s not. She wants make the world a friendlier place. Will you help her? More follows below…
Resolved: To just say “hi”
by Wendy Gulley
The year 2010 has lost some of its shiny new sparkle as we trudge our way through a dark, cold January. But it’s not too late to make one more New Year’s resolution. And this one is easy to keep: no self-denial necessary. Just resolve to greet people every day with a simple “hi”, a smile, and eye contact. That’s it.
Piece of cake, right? Well, that depends where you live. I’ve been a runner for the past 30 years and have jogged in many different places where I’ve lived and traveled. As you might guess, I’ve found that people down south and in more rural areas say “hi” to their fellow walkers and joggers much more often. Running on roads and trails in the Carolinas as a teenager, I grew accustomed to the friendly greetings runners gave to each other. Saying “hi” was just what you did when someone passed by on your run. But then I visited a certain blogger-to-be at a certain college way up north in New Jersey. I remember well how jarring it was when no one said “hi” to me (or even looked at me!) on runs there, even on quiet woodsy trails.
Is it just the weather that causes us to be less likely to greet people? There does seem to be a correlation with weather, but I’d love to hear some readers’ comments with counter-examples, i.e., cold places where people are still friendly to strangers. And if the weather is a major factor, do we want Mother Nature to be pushing us around like that? When it’s 20 degrees and windy, isn’t that when we need the warmth of community the most?
Population density is another factor often thought to be correlated with friendliness. It’s generally accepted that big cities are unfriendly places, and Boston is no exception, unfortunately. On the other hand, I was quite struck by how friendly people were when I traveled to Mexico City (pop. 18 million), Bogota (7 million), and Sydney (4 million). Some cultures clearly seem to value being friendly more than others, and can pull it off even in urban environments.
Within our own culture, no matter where you live in America, it is clear that cars, cell phones, smart phones, and iPods have all made it easier for us to ignore strangers who pass us by each day. But we are all connected to each other and we all deserve acknowledgment as we go through the day — working, exercising, shopping, and commuting. A friendly word to the people we cross paths with can lift spirits, break down barriers, and increase community.
I myself am not a naturally friendly person. I was not born in the South, and my parents’ roots are in New York and Chicago. Being friendly to people as a way of life is something I came to slowly appreciate over the years, through the influence of various people and experiences.
On a beautiful day last September, I sat at a table for 6 hours at my town’s annual “Faire on the Square”, selling t-shirts that say “just say hi”. A poster atop the table asked “Do you wish people were friendlier?” Passers-by helped me make a list of greetings in dozens of different languages, and a list of places they wish people were friendlier. I had great conversations with many people of all ages and cultures who were like-minded about this issue. I sold shirts to several people who seemed to share my mission. Or maybe they just thought it was a cute t-shirt. My husband did a fabulous job with the design.
So give it a try. Just say hi! Buy a shirt to drive the point home. And please let me know how it goes!
Women’s cut t-shirts are available in pink and blue in S, M, L, and XL.
Unisex t-shirts are available in gray and white in S, M, L, XL and XXL.
Both cost $12 each, plus $2 shipping (US locations only). Send an email order (or just send an encouraging note) to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.