Friday, May 22, 2009

Good Morning!

I studiously and perhaps at times annoyingly insist on trying to make eye contact with anybody I pass while walking or jogging, and almost always utter a "Good morning", or the time-dependent suitable other greeting. I do this partly because some of our 'brighter lights' (e.g. Andy Barrie and Margaret Atwood, and yes, I do consider them generally somewhat dim bulbs) wring their hands constantly over the averted eyes in Toronto. I think they are wrong about the city, and likely just manage to cause people to want to avert eyes from them (which would hardly surprise me).
Some places I go, this behaviour is 100% reciprocated; one example is during morning outings in Ashbridge's Bay Park. Of course I mostly encounter dog-walkers or other joggers, so the people are relentlessly nice and responsive. Some of them are in fact even more aggressive than I about such behaviors. Generally when out on the town, I find maybe 70-80% of people respond, with some degree of eye-aversion, but that's mostly among younger women, and I can see their point.
But now I learn that this could be dangerous!
Life among neighbours has become increasingly complicated by multiculturalism, in this case making even the most affable salutation or good Samaritan gesture a practice in walking on eggshells. But in trying to adapt to a patchwork of often conflicting cultures, has civility become the casualty of accommodation?
I grew up in Manitoba, where it was an affront to your neighbour not to be cordial. If you didn't greet them by name you could be talked about in hushed voices and risked being labelled standoffish. Community amongst neighbours was not something to consider, it was a way of life. Call it prairie law.

I am taking the author's advice (which he got at second hand from exactly the kind of immigrant we want!):

Keep smiling, keep saying hello, she advised. The successful cohesion of cultures requires concessions from both sides. Offence or not, I have continued to greet those I share a building with, although the couple next door continue living in reclusion.
The alternative to this is to live amongst strangers in an icy standoff, fearful that the slightest attempt at community might be viewed as an affront. The alternative is to abandon prairie law, turn your back and close your eyes. And that sounds terrible.

(And, in case you are wondering, do I think we would be better off without the hostile male figure in this story, I sure do!)


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