A wave, a nod, a hello, a smile -- get with acknowledgment program

Janet's World

December 02, 2007|By Janet Gilbert

Civility begins with a simple wave to a stranger. If you feel a wave is over the top, you can give a little head-nod, or an eyebrow-flash and accompanying smile. If you are more verbal, utter a chipper "hello" or offer up some obvious comment about the weather. The point is, it is always nice to put forth a gesture that is a positive acknowledgment of another's existence.

I practice this every morning when I walk through my neighborhood and possibly yours with my dog, Moose. Of course, if he gets close enough to you, Moose will attempt through enthusiastic sniffing to provide a much more personal, uncomfortable acknowledgment of your presence, but this will be explored in a future column on pet etiquette. I hear that cats acknowledge your presence in a really spectacular way - by bringing you their most recent victim from the rodent family. Frankly, I don't know which greeting is more unnerving and downright socially unacceptable. I am just grateful that people don't make friends using either of these salutation methodologies.

But just in case you are unfamiliar with basic American culture, or have lost touch with it somehow through excessive iPod use, here is a common greeting scenario with instructions.

You are walking on a sidewalk and a person approaches - on the opposite sidewalk or in the street, or directly in front of you on the same path. (By the way, if you have a pet on a leash, you are the one who ought to move over and clear the path so that the other person can pass. If you have a stroller or young children with you, the other person should make room for you. If you are a runner, bicycle rider or an unconventional person doing outdoor jazzercise, you should move for the pedestrian, because you are clearly in better shape. This is the "courtesy move-over," the precursor to the brief greeting.)

Next, when you get within view of each other, execute the brief greeting you are most comfortable performing.

That's it. You do not need to divulge your name, where you live, or whether you think the Pop Tart qualifies as a serving from the fruit food group. Move on. You have been civil.

I have found that most people happily return the gesture of acknowledgment. Some go so far as to outdraw me in the encounter, tooting their horn or saying a "hello" before I've noticed them. These are my regulars; the people I don't know at all but recognize as "crocheted hat," "willowy runner in black" and "frail couple wielding golf clubs" because we are always out between 7:30 and 9 in the morning.

But some people will not say or do anything in response to my courtesy move-over and brief greeting. Ouch!

What should one do, you ask? Well, first, let us not overreact. It is possible that the seemingly unfriendly person is in his own world, dealing with an overwhelming personal problem or working on a formula for a clean renewable energy source, cold fusion, or, let's hope, fat-free fries.

Here in Janet's World, we recommend becoming increasingly enthusiastic and exuberant with your greeting. Try a warbling, sing-song "Hel-ooo-hoo" or a loud, staccato "Hey!" Believe me, it won't be long before these seemingly uncivil people will be doing the courtesy move-over for you, aka psycho greeter, when they see you approaching from more than a mile away.

Honestly, we must just get over it and accept the fact that some people will not acknowledge us. We cannot force courtesy on people; all we can really do is lead by example and hope that these individuals run out of gas unexpectedly on U.S. 29 during rush hour and find themselves forced to rely on the kindness of strangers.

Let the frantic waving begin.

Contact Janet at janet@janetgilbertonline.com.

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