The Elusive Smile/Nod

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April 24, 2015 by T. Gregory Argall

It still happens in small towns, although not as much as it used to. In my father’s generation it was just a regular thing, a matter of manners and politeness. In my generation, the frequency was lower but still noticeable. I did it all the time. For my son’s generation, it’s pretty rare.
Saying, “Hello,” as you pass a stranger on the sidewalk just isn’t as cool and “acceptable” as it once was.

Walking through a small town, or a suburban park, you’ll encounter maybe one or two people every five minutes or so. A friendly greeting is not uncommon in those circumstances. Walking downtown in a major city, or through a shopping mall, you’ll pass about fifty people in a minute. Saying, “Hi,” to each one would be very distracting.
So, yeah, okay, as population density increased, I can understand how this sort of casual social acknowledgement could be overlooked. Sadly, there is also an inherent distrust of strangers that also grown more prevalent.
When the number of people around us goes up, we instinctively close ranks, huddling in our own little cliques and tribes, going out of our way to avoid addressing anyone who isn’t “us.”

And that’s why I was pleasantly surprised on Wednesday morning when I was at my local shopping centre. I was in the mall for maybe twenty minutes in total, and in that time three separate people gave me a smile/nod, the universal sign for a non-verbal friendly greeting. I didn’t know any of these people and there was nothing to indicate that they knew each other.
The little analytical voice in the back of my head noted that there were similar factors among all three of them. They were all female, black, and of a similar height. There were also several differences; ages, clothing styles, physical build. None of these facts seemed relevant.
They were simply being randomly friendly for the sake of being randomly friendly. They didn’t seem to be smile/nodding to everyone. Just me.
I considered various reasons for their smiles. I checked and all of the necessary zippers on my clothing were properly zipped. There was no goofy sign on my forehead (or any sign, for that matter). My shoes matched. The smiles weren’t flirting smiles. (The ship of that likelihood sailed long ago. I am no longer anywhere near being the prize my wife once convinced herself that I am.)

After careful consideration and probably much more thought than the situation actually deserved, I came to the one possible conclusion.

Wednesday, April 22 was “Be Nice To Over-Sized Bald Dudes Day.”

Do you have a better explanation?

I like the idea of days like that, with no ulterior motive other than to share a smile. There should be more of them, days when we choose an unrelated selection of people with a random common element and make an effort to let them know that their existence is acknowledged and appreciated.
“Be Nice To People In Glasses Day.”
“Be Nice To People In Beige Shirts Day.”
“Hug An Accountant Day.”
“Shake A Bus Driver’s Hand Day.”

Many years ago, when my son was young, probably about five years old, he observed a verbal exchange between a store clerk and myself.
“Here’s your change, sir.”
“Thanks, my friend.”
Nothing really complex or deeply moving, but my son commented on it when we left the store.
“Daddy,” he asked, “is that man really your friend?”
I’d never met clerk before, but I said to my son, “He’s done nothing to make me think he isn’t.”

For some reason, three casual smile/nods in a mall reminded my of that brief observation.
It cost me nothing to to make a positive assumption about the clerk, and it cost those three strangers nothing to give me a friendly nod for no reason other than that it’s friendly.

Can we make this happen more often?
Who knows, maybe it will catch on.

Try to be nice to each other.


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