My husband is a doctor and I was waiting for him in this boutique hospital’s lobby area (in Michigan). I was working on my laptop and had been sitting there for about two hours.
People were walking around back and forth, since I was sitting closeby to some elevators.
I called up a friend in Philadelphia, just to chat. After only looking down at my computer, I was looking around while chatting on the phone. Suddenly, around the corner of the hallway, I saw a middle age man in a suit with a hospital badge. He looked straight at me and started walking towards me with a weird smile on his face. He slowed down a few feet from me, saw that I was on the phone, and then kept walking towards the elevators. I was somewhat alarmed, so I told me friend on the phone to give me a sec.
I pulled down my head set, and leaned forward, and asked the man in a clear voice, “Is there a problem?’
I was worried that this man was going to ask me, “Excuse, you can’t sit here for this long.” or “Are you waiting for someone?” or “What is your business here, you’ve been occupying these seats for a very long time, this is for patients only.” Or something along those lines. Perhaps he was being polite, since he saw me on a call, so he didn’t want to yell at me then… but if there’s a problem, I’d like to know ASAP so I can gather my things and move if needed. But please tell me, and I’ll move immediately. Looking at me, hesitating… and then walking away only makes me more nervous!
So I say “Is there a problem?” And then… the man answers, “Nope, no problem. Just smiling.”
OMG… I’m so mortified. This guy was only trying to smile and be nice. OMG OMG…. I wanted to disappear… I quickly apologize, saying “I’m sorry, I just moved from the East Coast, we don’t smile that often out there…” (he just walks away into the elevator by then…)
As I hear my friend on my phone yelling, “What?!?!? We smile in Philadelphia! And in Boston! And in NYC!!”
I get back on the line, “No we don’t! If you walked around Center City with a BIG SMILE on your face as you looked STRAIGHT at each person, and said hello to random people, people would think 1. you’re crazy or 2. you mistook them for someone you knew.” She thinks about it and says, “True…”
As I continued our discussion of behaviors of smiling to random people in the hyper crazy cities… I noticed… more people trying to smile at me. And then people started saying hello to me. Then I realized people started smiling at me and trying to SIT next to me! OMG! what is going on!
Usually when we walk around in Center City, you either look straight ahead, avoid eye contact, or you look down on the ground that you’re walking on. Don’t believe me? Look out the window of your office or apt or bus.
Yes yes, we will smile if we’re at the check out line, or greet “How are you?” to the cashier. For my boutique apartment complex, there aren’t many units, and so it’s a pretty small and private community. When you want to be nice in the elevator, you say “what floor?” in a pleasant sound so you can help them press their floor. And if you’re really nice that day, when they leave you can initiate “Have a good one (good night, good evening, good day)!” And sometimes they answer, other times they mumble… Most of the times, two people just walk into the elevator, stare straight at the floor, the door, or the changing numbers (if the elevators have them) and then walk out. Minimal exchange of interactions seems to be norm.
I’ve been greeted a few times on the streets of Philadelphia. Once was a crazy man who was yelling at me and tried to hit me in broad daylight at 8am. (I was just walking to my bus stop). He then continued to yell at the next passerbys… and ALL of us, just looked down or straight and avoided him and quickly kept walking. Another time, it was 5pm, sunny day, a man bee-lines towards me and tries to grab me. I stop short. He stops short, and says, “How you doin?”
If people approach you, usually my alert system goes up, I’m in high defensive mode.
So now, midwesterners are all just being nice, but accidentally triggering my super nervous alarm mode. So I have a bunch of false alarms going off every few seconds. I’m so exhausted. I know I’m insane. And I want to enjoy all this nice-ness. But it keeps catching me off guard, and I need more time to relax and get used to this (and not misinterpret it as a potential oncoming threat).
I keep getting so uncomfortable and also keep being caught off guard and being at a loss for words (which is rare and also way awkward for me)… I decided to pack up my things.
I walked into the parking lot, found our car, and I went to go sit in my car. I finished my work and my lunch there.
I was so overwhelmed by the nice-ness and was so uncomfortable with all the hellos and smiles, and also did not know what to do with myself…. I had to lock myself in my car, to hide out.
OMG! You guys are so nice! and Smiling!! this is so weird!