Philly is not New York, but neither is it the small city where I grew up or the resort town where I used to live. What’s the difference, you ask? No, it’s not the cultural activities, or the traffic, or even the real estate prices. It’s the smiling.
In those less urban environments, people smile at others a lot even–hold on to your hats, cityfolk–when passing strangers on the sidewalk. When I first moved to the city, I continued smiling in my usual way and found that almost everyone looks back at me like I must be a religious nut or a panhandler. (And no, I’m not dressed like either of those. Unlike my personality, my wardrobe was pretty easy to bring up to urban standards.)
I have finally learned not to smile at total strangers but I still have trouble with the avoidance of eye contact required when passing someone on an empty sidewalk. I really should be used to it by now, since it’s also standard operating procedure in my office.
But the other night I found the strangest spot where people refuse to smile–the speed dating registration line. There they stand, several guys who are paying money to meet me just a few minutes from now, and they will absolutely not make eye contact or smile. Are they too nervous or embarrassed? Do they, with smiling muscles atrophied from life in the city, not want to waste their energy too early?
And the most important question: If I’m the only one smiling, does it make me look mentally defective instead of friendly?
Maybe, but I’m going to keep at it anyway. And if you see me, please smile back, before I’m forced to take more drastic action. Have you heard my rendition of the “Annie” soundtrack?