Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Why I Don't Talk to Strangers in Philly

I consider myself a pretty social person. I love striking up a conversation about anything. However, since moving to the City of Brotherly Love, I find I am not as willing to chat up a perfect stranger. The social dynamic of 21st century city life is actually quite interesting. Think about it, you hop on public transportation, snatch a window seat and pray that no one sits next to you. Because that means if you need to get off before they do, you will ACTUALLY HAVE TO SPEAK to them. Of course, if they do sit next to you, there is an 80% chance that when you have to exit the bus/subway, they WON'T get up but rather shift their legs into the aisle and make you squeeze past them. When this occurs, I resist the urge to say "Thanks asshole. I hope my ass cheeks graze your face."

We listen to our MP3 players, and read our Kindles and pretty much fall into an anti-social commute where you say things like "excuse me" and that is about it. This morning I was riding the bus to work and sat next to a girl who had the same exact umbrella as I. I smiled, nodded to my umbrella and said "Hey! Nice umbrella!" To which she grunted in response and stared at the floor, seemingly annoyed/startled someone actually communicated a verbal thought to her this morning.

Philly, like most cities, requires a certain selective attitude when choosing to speak to a stranger. You might say "gee, this weather is nice" and end up in a political debate with a paranoid, mentally challenged, homeless person who happens to be dressed well and smelling nice that day. My person favorite is when I'm listening to my headphones and someone says something to me. I pop a headphone out, ask them to repeat themselves and answer whatever question they asked. Then I don't know whether to pop my headphone back in, because, what if they want more information? Nothing is more aggravating than having to ask a headphone wearing pedestrian several questions, several different times. Numerous times I'm accosted by people at my bus stop who make me pop out a headphone to answer them and then follow up with a lecture. "You know Miss, you're losing a sense when you're listening to those ear buds. I called out to you three times before you heard me. What if I was a robber or something? You wouldn't even hear me coming." Valid point. However, I'm standing no more than 70 feet from my apartment building in one of the safest neighborhoods in the city. That is not to say that nothing bad could happen, but I feel quite safe and secure around these surroundings and in my 2 years living in that spot, the only situations I miss out on have been people asking the time and if I see the bus down the street.

It is very entertaining to walk around the city with my mother, who decides to say hello to damn near everyone. She asks me why I don't acknowledge passer-byes and I'm like...because its Philly. You only talk to people you need something from. She says "hello, hi, good morning" and the recipients of her greetings mumble awkwardly or look wide eyed and startled. That is entertainment you can't buy.

The moral of the story is that our society has went from a very social one to a very anti-social one. The communication norms are shifting everyday and people's comfort zones have been redeveloped to include, well, only people they are familiar with or want something from. I try to tell strangers to have a good day after they ask me the time and sometimes they're genuinely pleased and other times they just ignore me. Such is life.

Until next time...

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