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When a Cheery ‘Hello’ Seems Threatening

November 4th, 2017 · 1 Comment · Austria, France, Travel

I have become … oh, not obsessed but definitely interested … in the notion of saying hello to strangers. As the French do.

On our most recent trip to California, I tried out the French method, in English, to people I encountered while walking. “Good morning!”

It met with some success, suggesting that suburban Americans are perhaps still more inclined to politeness, in random interpersonal exchanges, than we might think.

In September, we visited Prague, Budapest and Vienna, and I remarked on the social distance I felt. People were not saying “good morning”. Not, as far as we could tell, and I for sure would have noticed in Vienna thanks to my rudimentary German.

London is another city where saying hello is met with suspicion, as this satirical item from BBC Two’s The Mash Report points out.

The basis of the not-real-but-could-be story is that saying “hello” is a regional thing, in England.

The man “terrorizing” London with “hellos” to people he does not know, is characterized as a “northerner”.

Someone from Newcastle or Sutherland, for example. Near the Scottish border. Where people say “morning!”

As the satire bit goes on, one of those rattled by the cheery visitor notes that he made “direct eye contact”, which was found to be threatening.

Eventually, the hello man is apprehended by the police after people complain that he has been speaking to people he doesn’t know.

Well, of course.

As the faux-news anchor put it:

“Generic northerner Stephen Malley left Londoners traumatized by his attempts to interact with them in a friendly, cheerful manner.”

The satire continues with a reporter in the field, who noted the minute the “generic northerner” arrived in London: 9:32 a.m. “He had already said hello to several people en route from Kings Cross Station, leaving worried commuters unsure why a man they did not know was speaking to them.”

The “news” bit ends with Malley apologizing for his actions, pleading ignorance of London habits of remaining aloof and promising to leave London and travel home later in the day.

So, saying hello … could it be a big-city thing? People in New York City probably would react with the same level of consternation at a random greeting as did the notional Londoners.

Maybe, if we had gotten out to the countryside of Austria, Hungary and the Czech Republic we might have gotten some response to “hello” … that we did not get in those country’s capital cities.

It seems as if big cities bring together in close proximity tens of thousands of people … who want nothing more than being left alone.




1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Gene Hiigel // Nov 5, 2017 at 7:35 PM

    The most unsettling thing to we NYers when we leave our cocoon is having someone say hello when they get on an elevator. It disturbs our study of the floor numbers above the elevator door.

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