One of the things the South is famous for is its hospitality. Going hand-in-hand with that, it is generally known that people are, on the whole, friendlier here. Random strangers on the street will smile and wave at you, whereas in New York City, if you are walking on the street, your primary goal is to not make eye contact with anyone. Put in your earbuds, even if you’re not listening to anything, and if someone approaches you, ignore, ignore, walk faster, ignore.
I have to say, in my almost 8 years of living in New York, I got pretty good at the eye-contact avoidance, but I could never bring myself to ignore someone who was very clearly talking directly to me. Now, don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t stop and strike up a conversation with them, but if they were trying to hand me a flier, I at least said, “No thank you.” (Still no eye-contact of course.) So, I guess I half-way adapted.
Honestly, I don’t think I knew how good I had gotten at public social avoidance until we moved here. The realization process began when I noticed I was avoiding looking people in the eye. This included both people around me – no eye contact with this person coming toward me in the grocery store aisle – and people who I had a brief contact with, like the guy who apologized for bumping into my cart at the grocery store. (Big social hub, that grocery store.)
I think the first time I noticed something was a bit off I was at a Sheetz and a young gentleman held the door for me as I was leaving – he looked directly at me and smiled. I said, “Thank you,” of course, but as I was walking to my car, I all of a sudden had this feeling that I had just been rude to that man. It was a strange feeling considering I had engaged in the required niceties, but then I realized that I hadn’t looked at him when I said thank you. Do you have to stare people down when expressing thanks for a small gesture? Do you have to make eye contact every time? Are you socially deplorable if you don’t make the eye contact?!!! No, of course not. But when you really want to convey thanks to someone rather than just throwing it out as a formality, you make eye contact. Anyway, while I dragged this 2-second experience into a whole paragraph, the thought process about this experience didn’t take more than 5 minutes, and then I put the situation out of my mind.
That is until a few other things started happening.