To Greet, or Not to Greet?

September 27th, 2010 by Stuart White

New York etiquette is a tricky subject. The list of city-specific interactions and social situations with the potential for offense goes on and on. However, some questions of etiquette are more universal, like that old chestnut: Is it appropriate to greet strangers with a friendly “Hi, how are you”?

For some, the greeting is an innocuous pleasantry; to others the rhetorical greeting is a capital offense. With such varying views, the real question is who’s peskier, the person who offers a casual greeting, or the person who rejects it?

Nathaniel Marro, a New York resident by way of Vermont, finds the universal greeting to be a bit much. “It’s more like a case where if I catch their eyes, I give them a smile and a nod, than go out of my way to say hi to them,” he said.

In fact, Nathaniel finds verbalizing one’s acknowledgement of a stranger to be something of a faux pas. He does, however, try to temper his disapproval by responding politely. “But I would think it was an odd situation,” he maintained. “I would be taken aback.”

Though many have tried to justify or explain it, the city’s sometimes-prickly demeanor can be decidedly off-putting to some. Jessica Sullivan, a southern transplant, had to put a moratorium on the beloved southern practice of greeting strangers.

In her opinion, the thought behind the greeting counts for more than the content. “For a complete stranger, the fact that they even took the time to say hello is a friendly gesture in my book,” she said. “I wish more people did it here.”

The fact that the question is rhetorical is a nonissue, a boon even. “I would just prefer the standard ‘I’m fine,’ instead of ‘Well, my dog died yesterday,’” she said.

Though Jessica misses the easy camaraderie of the casual greeting, she has taken into account the logistical challenges of greeting everyone in a city like New York. “You encounter so many more people,” she said. “If you say ‘Hi, how are you,’ to every person you pass in New York City you’d never get where you’re going.”

Though native New Yorkers are historically painted as somewhat deficient in friendliness (1907 Times article), Ray Ruiz, a Brooklyn native, bucks the trend of ignoring passers-by. “I always say hello to everyone,” he said. “But I guess a lot of New Yorkers aren’t in tune with that.”

Indeed, it isn’t easy being a friendly New Yorker. “A lot of times I get shunned,” Ray admitted. “I guess some people don’t want to be friendly.”

In a place as diverse as New York, the question of who deserves a greeting will be disputed forever. When it comes to ignoring a greeting, however, Ray Ruiz’ opinion seems definitive: “That’s just rude.”

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