Living near to London has taught me one thing: social interaction with strangers of any kind is strictly prohibited. I learnt this fact the fast way, when saying anything but an awkward British ‘sorry’ to a fellow Underground passenger resulted in a look of shock and confusion. In fact a simple acknowledgement of a particularly intriguing headline on the Metro is considered justification for moving two carriages along, or even abandoning ship prematurely at the next stop.
A friend of mine said seemingly all too truthfully that only ‘crazy people’ talk to strangers in London. Unfortunately for my faith in humanity this does indeed seem to be the case, with the only decent conversation I’ve managed with someone their deriving from a man’s sporadic insistence on me reading a book that ‘opened his eyes and changed his life’, whilst I was queuing at a fast food restaurant (I still haven’t got round to that…).
‘But why does this make him the ‘crazy person’?
Even in my hometown, or anywhere outside of the city for that matter, I’ve found a simple smile or a nod of the head to a stranger is met with absolute social aversion. In fact it has now reached the extent to which I feel equally awkward in doing so, preferring to avoid eye contact with any and all things lest I should acknowledge another’s being and cause them to meltdown. There are a number of reasons for this that have run through my head upon a little consideration. Could it be an issue of trust, with the media constantly informing us of the ever present, ever potential threat of rape and murder, now even in those who seem apparently normal? Perhaps it’s once more mobile phones, entrapping every individual in a world of their own, only to be awoken by the opening of the train doors and a moment of panic when attempting to see the sign for their station through the window.
Ultimately however, I think it’s because we’re just too damn lazy.
The prospect of circumnavigating the national rail for however many hours alongside listening to someone exchanging pleasantries, or worse yet trading some aspect of their lives both meaningless to you before meeting them and likewise after; for most is just too much to bear. It’s the reason hundreds of people will walk past a sobbing person alone in the street, or a homeless person seeking coin for the night. It’s not their business so they don’t care.
What has however interested me is the fact that certain situations are indeed considered ‘acceptable’ moments to socialise in the unwritten laws of human interaction. This is namely when you come across another doing the same activity as you. I can walk my dog past a hundred people and have no reason to stop and talk, yet should I meet a fellow dog walker my conversational world opens up to comments on the weather and perhaps even a line of inquiries into the others animal. We are social beings, however only in times of comfort and relative safety. A dog walker knows the agenda of another dog walker, a runner knows exactly how another runner is feeling. It appears that outside of actually knowing people, we seek conversation only when we have some apparent common ground with one another, a singular aspect of life which both can empathise with and thereby socialise through.
Regardless of this, next time you’re out, don’t be averted to a smile. It’s a simple gesture easily afforded to a fellow human being. And as they say, smiles are contagious, you might even find it spreads.