hi back

I don’t get people who don’t say hi back.

I’m no moron – I don’t walk through life saying hi to everyone I pass. But in some situations acknowledging a person’s presence, even if I don’t intend to start a conversation, just makes sense. Like passing on a wilderness trail. Or seeing a visitor waiting in the lobby while I’m waiting there too. Or noticing someone setting up nearby at the beach.

“Hi.” It’s a simple enough word, a modest recognition of a fellow life traveler. Somehow it’s also too much to ask. Not that I say hi in order to hear it back – it’s just that choosing not to respond is utterly foreign to me. I guess women have an excuse: they don’t know I’m not a stalker. But men?

How do they manage it? – looking right at me as they walk past, leaving my greeting hanging there in midair between us like an unreturned handshake. I say hi to everyone who first says it to me. It’s a reflex. Resisting it would take conscious effort.

I’m no extrovert; if anything, I dislike conversations with strangers, so it’s not as though words ceaselessly fly from my mouth at unwilling targets. “Hi” may even be my release valve for awkwardness, something to say when I’m in the same place with someone I don’t know.

Maybe other people aren’t like that. Maybe, for them, the external world is a screen that can be engaged or disregarded at will, and I, one random person passing and saying hi, am worth only an internal snigger: “Huh, lanky dude saying hi, don’t know him. Whatever.”

That attitude boggles me. We’re all fellows: similar, if not in personality or dreams, at least in design and prospects. Doesn’t some minimum interaction seem due? Even more, we’re all distant cousins of the same human family. Who wouldn’t say hi to a cousin?

Alter the circumstances and any two people might be close friends. Alter them differently and they might never encounter one another. Between those extremes, a simple hi in passing seems appropriate.

So I’ll keep saying hi. Not all the time or to everyone – again, that would be weird – but in those odd occasions when I find myself momentarily thrown together with another person, like a relatively empty movie theater.

You don’t have to say hi back. That’s your prerogative. But I’ll say it anyway because, even though you may not care to consider it, under different circumstances we might have been friends.

“If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (from Matthew chapter 5)


8 Responses to “hi back”

  1. the forester Says:

    I keep thinking someone’s going to comment, “You sicko, keep your hi’s to yourself!”

  2. narziss Says:

    I completely agree with you here. I just don’t get these people either.

    Unfortunately though, in India where I happen to live, it’s not customary to randomly greet people. But my stay in Switzerland reminds of the amazing feeling when walking down the road, the strangest of the strangest would give a brief but courteous “Bonjour”, and you are customarily expected to reply back.

    Such small things indeed go a long way…

  3. RubeRad Says:

    Hi’s come easy to me, but I have a very hard time when people add “How are you”. I toss back a “fine”, but I can never push through to “How are you?” Deep down (and on the surface), I just don’t care, and I wish they hadn’t asked me how I’m doing. And not as much that I suspect that they don’t really care, but I just rather they wouldn’t.

    I must be one of those sociopaths — but at least I can say hi.

  4. Albino Hayford Says:

    I don’t remember whether it was Target or Walmart that instituted a policy of their cashiers smiling and saying, “Hello” to each customer. They had to ease up on it, because many men thought that the young women found them attractive and were coming on to them! I’ll research this further, but it was a hilarious story.

  5. Steve B Says:

    I’ll usually give a nod and a “hey” or “hi” if I make eye contact. Otherwise I’m not usually that social.

    My wife, on the other hand, seems to have a tatoo on her forehead that says, “Tell Me Your Life Story.”

    For some reason complete strangers just sort of attach themselves to here and start telling her way more than she ever wanted to know. Pretty funny.

  6. cnrgibson Says:


  7. RubeRad Says:

    Do I detect some Chuckie-Bob or Mise-rae-rae in the house?

  8. Jim Fisher Says:

    You can get 100 bucks if the teller forgets to greet you. Kramer got 20 for a “hey”

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