Thursday, September 3, 2009

Friendly Folks on the Road

An interesting thing happens when we leave California - people are friendly. I don't mean your everyday California friendly. I mean, happy to have jobs no matter how menial, openly expressive, welcoming to strangers, curious about the people around them. They make eye contact. The girls noticed this on last fall's big adventure. One year later and in an economic world apart that observation still holds true.

Today, while refilling the van at the self-pay pump, a voice from the loudspeaker greeted me. I looked to the service window where the cashier gave me a smile. When I'd finished pumping, she sent me off with good wishes. She greeted each driver this way while I was there. In California, I pull up to the pump, swipe my card, pump and go without any interaction from an employee, let alone a pleasant greeting and farewell. Paying cash in California? The cashier typically couldn't care less, and certainly doesn't seem very happy to have her job.

Then it was off to the grocery store where the young man collecting carts in the parking lot greeted me with a smile and, "How're you?" As I approached the store, customers exiting looked each other (and me) in the eye, gave smiles or nods or other silent greetings. None of the avoidance I've grown so used to as a Californian.

No matter where I go here, I find people greeting each other, looking each other in the eye. My heart swells, a smile spreads across my face which can only help improve the next potential human interaction.

Are we so busy in California that we just can't do these simple things? Why is it so impersonal there? What's wrong with eye contact? Anyone? Anyone?

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  1. I definitely don't have the answer, but I have really noticed the same thing since we have moved from California to Colorado. Store employees ask if they can help you (and actually know where things are) and people go out of their way to help each other by holding doors (especially if you have a stroller) or offering to carry things. Everyone is really friendly. You feel like you are living in a community instead it is you against the world. The only thing that I can figure is that most people in California are really stressed out due to the high cost of living, trying to make ends meet, long commutes, and trying to get ahead that they are just trying to get through the day. It really is amazing how different it is once you leave the state.

  2. I live in Texas, along the Gulf Coast. We have this same neighborly attitude here among strangers. Also, I grew up in Mississippi and when I go back home there to visit, people are so friendly and warm whther they know you or not.

    On the other hand, there are many states I travel to that don't offer the simple human interaction of a smile and a nod to strangers; places like New York, Boston, most of the northeast, and yes, lots of California, especially Los Angelese area.

  3. I read your article and I totally agree. We moved to Santa Barbara from Colorado about a year ago and we are desperate to move back, because people in California are generally very unfriendly.

    I think in Colorado 80% of my interactions with strangers are positive and 20% are neutral so when I interact with people in Colorado I expect a positive interaction. In California the ratio is reversed.

    However, I do have a funny story from this morning. I had surgery on my face two days ago to remover skin cancer, so my face is is heavily bandaged and swollen. So this morning I thought I would take my daughter outside for a short walk and just not look at anyone. So of course we run into Mr. Friendly who is shouting good-morning from 100 yards away.

    Have fun on your road trip.

  4. Had to reply about the eye contact avoidance. I find that to be particularly true in southern California. Almost everyone I walk past smiles or nods or says hi. The farther south in California the less contact...and go to the East Coast...that was the biggest difference to me in eye contact what so ever.


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