Just Say Hi

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 wgulley@gmail.com.

19 thoughts on “Just Say Hi”

  1. This is an excellent idea Wendy! I’m guilty of not being friendly enough even though some sort of recognition feels very good. Most of the places I’ve visited aren’t terribly outgoing, although that may be a function of me more than the local people.

    A friend of mine is on a similar mission and reports a wonderful feeling doing it. She pushes a bit further and gives people high fives.


    In any event increasing the sense of connectedness, even if it is only fleeting, is a good thing. I’m going to try to overcome my “shyness” or whatever it is that prevents me from doing this naturally.

    I’d love to hear stories

  2. And hi to you, Loren! Thanks for reading!

    Steve, I loved the high fives video! thanks for posting that link here. I’m pleased that I may be helping to inspire you to say “hi”. For me, it’s something I do as much for myself as for other people. Feels good!

  3. Wendy,
    Here in this tiny town in western North Carolina I walk down the street with my arm in a permanent wave position . . . and half the time I have no clue who I have just acknowledged. It is not a problem here. (Except it is “hey, ” not “hi.”)
    When we were protesting each week, Kelly, a Vietnam vet/ ex-hippie started waving at the cars passing by our corner. It was amazing how many people, regardless of how they felt about George W. Bush or the war in Iraq, would wave right back. He explained, “This is the South and it’s programmed in, you wave and they have to wave back.”

  4. Thanks, Sheila and Anne! I’ve wondered if NC was changing a bit with being friendly to passers-by, since so many people have moved there from other states in the last 20 years. It’s good to hear that waving is still “programmed in”, at least in Elkin. I remember arriving at the Raleigh/Durham airport a few years ago, and this airport employee down at baggage claim greeted me so enthusiastically I thought he had mistaken me for his long lost sister. I always feel like people staying at the condos at Tar Landing (Atlantic Beach, NC) are also very friendly.

  5. My wife Sukie will sometimes great Chinese strangers with one of her half dozen Mandarin phrases: Nî hâo. Some of them break into a huge smile, assume she knows Mandarin, and launch into a rapid stream of that language.

    She does get style points for effort though…

  6. Hi Wendy!

    Recently I got a puppy & cannot get over the change in the friendliness of people since! I take the puppy to work each day (a small shih-tzu). I have worked in the same office building for (5) years and walk past the same people on a daily basis. People who would not even make eye contact with me before will now stop & say hello & strike up a conversation!

    Why does it take a puppy for people to say hi???

  7. HEY Wendy,
    Here in the applachian, people greet each other while driving past each other by raising their index finger while holding onto the wheel of their vehicle,( usually a truck) and nodding.. it will not necessarily be someone you know.. I even do it…and men and women call women honey and sugar.. it is endearing really , and when you leave they always say , “stay with us”. good seeing you guys at Christmas.. sorry about the election..

  8. Hi Nancy,
    Good to hear from you! It’s common knowledge that a cute puppy is a “chick magnet” for a man. I’m glad to hear there are social benefits for a woman with a cute puppy as well. But I agree, it’s sad that the puppy is necessary for someone to notice you in the halls.

    you’re my rural connection. I’m glad to hear that this sort of acknowledgment is still going on, even within a hunk of steel. I find it kind of endearing too to be called “honey” in the South– please don’t tell my friends out in Berkeley, CA.

  9. Hi Wendy…I just posted your picture on my facebook. So cute!
    I would like to publish your link…when I figure out how to do it!
    I attended two colleges in the south…At each one we always greeted everybody with a Hi or Hey.
    One of my colleges moved to our town…Now students from the North are in the majority. When I walk on the campus, I always
    say Hi and am greeted with a surprised/startled look! Maybe they think I want something from them. I do…just a reply…Hi!

  10. HI! (hey) Wendy Good luck with your crusade. Smaller towns are generally friendlier than big cities. Southerners are certainly more courteous, and have no hesitation in saying ” HEY” to a total stranger. Newcomers may take awhile to adjust to this unexpected warmth. you soon realize though, that being friendly is a way of life, and easy and rewarding . keep up the good work!

    BSL bill

  11. Hi, Wendy. Love the t-shirt. What a great look for you. I have to say that although it is a Southern city, Charlotte is not as friendly as it used to be. Many people are too wrapped up in cell phones, iPods and texting to say, “Hi” or “Hey”. I think, though, it is because too many damn yankees moved down here (LOL).

  12. variations… Certainly a smile and a hello would be excellent here, but …

    I was at a local store that supports a program that teachers young retarded people work skills. They try to be so helpful – some of them have figured out what to do well and some get very confused. Customers mostly look away so it can be sad.

    Anyway one guy who has been having problems managed to bag my stuff almost right. I found myself smiling and thought why not … “do you know what a high five is?” he did. It took three attempts, but we got it! Two of the others saw this and ran up for theirs and then they started giving them to each other.

    It was a completely beautiful moment

  13. Awesome, Steve! My grocery store uses lots of differently abled people for baggers. It is hard to be patient with them sometimes, even though my own son might be there someday. Giving them a high five when they complete their task is such a great idea.

    Sally, or anyone else: here’s an easy link to this post, which you could put on facebook or wherever:


    “Hey”, “hi”, or a high five: it’s all good!
    thanks for everyone’s comments!

    The huge volume of texting that goes on these days is frightening. It’s clearly keeping people from face-to-face interaction. I often see 2 people sitting in silence at a table at a restaurant, both of them texting on their phones and not interacting with each other at all.

  14. I am enjoying this. It’s a way of life for me…I do it without even thinking. All the best and see you this summer. Audrey says Hi to Carolyn and Jay.

  15. Billy,
    Hi to Audrey too!
    Just curious, since you recently moved across the country: do you feel there’s any difference in friendliness between people in the Denver area and people in the Asheville area?

  16. Well I think in general the Asheville area is friendlier, but that might be the homey in me talking, although the Denver area does score well in the friendly category. We actually lived in Golden and before that Flagstaff, two similar, small towns with a mix of people and cultures. Both are very friendly places and hard to compare to the general populations of Colorado and Arizona.

    The Denver area ranks as one of the best places we have lived and it seems to have a very healthy, active population. I believe it always ranks at or near the top in it’s residents being a healthy, fit bunch with the lowest incidence of obesity. And the Denver area, although a big city, never seemed crowded to me. It is well laid out with lots of walking and biking trails and open space. Surely there’s a connection with being healthy, active, and uncrowded and being friendly.

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