Blog Post #1

And so starts a blog about an idea that is quite simple: greeting people (including strangers) 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 started visiting my future husband at a 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!

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4 Comments on “Blog Post #1”

  1. Pete Weis Says:

    Wendy. Great idea for a blog site – an important issue! Seems, increasingly, we are isolating ourselves onto our own little islands.

    While sailing, we met a family from the UK. The father had recently lost his job at a high tech company in New Jersey during the tech bust of the early 2000’s. He said what, apparently, alot of Europeans say – “in the US, Americans live to work and in Europe, Europeans work to live”. Part of what this may mean, is that we Americans (especially those who live in hard charging urban areas) have scheduled our lives very rigidly around our careers and there’s always the fear that taking time to interact with strangers will throw that schedule out of whack.

    Pete

    • wgulley Says:

      Pete,
      I’ve definitely heard many times the “live to work/ work to live” difference between Americans and Europeans, and I envy them their month-long vacations. But I hadn’t thought about how this difference affects interacting with strangers. Of course it does, now that I think about it. Many people are in a rush because of their jobs and don’t value taking the time to greet strangers. It’s a matter of valuing people and community over your to-do list. Maybe people should put “build community” at the top of their to-do list every day, to remind themselves that little things like opening the door for someone or saying hi are actually a good use of their time.

  2. Sarah Says:

    Hi, Wendy!

    As you know, I’m traveling right now, and I never fail to be amazed by the power of a well-placed “Marhaba”, “Bonjour,” or “Salaam Aleikum.” I can say, however, that as a single woman, there have often been times when me making a little eye contact and saying “hi” conveyed a message that I didn’t intend to send.

    That being said, I’m happy to have said hi more often than not, and I don’t plan on stopping!

    Keep fighting the good fight! 🙂

  3. wgulley Says:

    Sarah,
    you’ve experienced many different cultures– is there one you would say stands out as least or most friendly? How does Guatemala compare to Lebanon? Or the parts of Africa you’ve been in?

    As for unintended messages, I know this is an issue with a woman who is saying “hi” to strangers, especially if she is alone. Certainly I wouldn’t say “hi” in a nightclub or other pick-up scene. Or in a country where American women are viewed as promiscuous. It’s sad that saying hi can be tricky for women in some situations.

    I would love for this blog to reside at justsayhi.com. It turns out that domain name is already in use, as an online dating service!


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