just say hello!

S3600016Yesterday I walked to a local store to buy some milk for my morning coffee. Close to my destination, I encountered an elderly, African looking man waiting for a bus. He appeared both dishevelled and disgruntled.

On impulse, I looked him in the eye and said, ‘Hello!’ Instantly his weathered face broke into a beatific grin and he mumbled a reply. I didn’t stop, but continued on my way.

As I walked away from him, I realised that I had behaved as I did, because of his African demeanour. If this sounds racist, I don’t believe it is, unless in a positive way! I spent several summers in Ghana, West Africa, and got used to their way of saying hello. On a daily basis, total strangers would greet me as they walked by, and not just because I was white. There seemed to me to be a tacit understanding there that no opportunity to acknowledge a fellow creature should be allowed to slip by. I never felt threatened or targeted in any way. I just felt included. How different from the city streets of England!

After each African visit, I would return to England and for a while try to openly acknowledge and catch the eye of passers by. Reactions ranged through fear, disgust, pretending I wasn’t there, to downright hostility. When I did receive a positive response it was often from someone who was clearly not English. Within two weeks I would become discouraged and resign myself to behaving like the rest of the nation. Eyes down, hurrying by, and avoiding any personal contact as best I could.

This is the famous ‘English reserve’ at its most counter productive. No wonder we all drink like drains. It can take several noggins for anyone to say anything to anyone. Dutch courage indeed! And why does Holland get the blame?

Would I have said anything to the gentleman waiting for a bus if he had been Caucasian? Probably not.

Without becoming an overbearing pain in the ass, I want to change this conditioning in myself, and make the effort to make connections with passers by, whoever they may be, whether they invite it or not. If I open the door, and no one comes in, nothing is lost except maybe some stale air.

Say, ‘Hello!’ It won’t hurt, and it may help.

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2 Responses to “just say hello!”

  1. Mike Says:

    I don’t think it’s English Reserve George, rather it’s the way of the world now. When I was a kid I would say hello to everyone ~ nowadays there is a fear amongst people of saying it in case you’re viewed as a looney, a peado, plain odd or a simpleton.

    But I agree, We should do it ~ but only if someone does it to me first, in which case I’ll think they’re a looney, a pea….

  2. george Says:

    hey mike
    thanks for your response…
    I’m glad you agree we should do it…
    but I dont think I want to wait for someone to do it to me first, any more…I want to make that first move, start looking people in the eye and holding out my hand…if one in ten respond positively thats already a success…and the rest can think what they like…nothing I do is going to change that

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