Saturday, November 27, 2010

Meeting People You Won't Say Hi to Again

"Hey I'm Jim"
"Hey Jim- I'm Steve"
Jim and Steve will never say hi to each other again. But they shook hands at least!

The other day, I was with my friend John in a café. As we were in the checkout line, John ran into Andrew, someone he doesn't know well at all but says hi to regularly. I paid for my food as they exchanged greetings and clichés such as "what are you doing for break?" I, not being in a very social mood, and also knowing the futility of the phenomenon I will hereby describe, avoided eye contact with this new guy who was invading my one-on-one time with John, not particularly caring to meet him. As it turns out, Andrew was walking the same direction as us out of the café so the three of us began walking together. John, doing the polite thing of course, introduced me, and me, not being a complete sociopath, extended my hand for a solid shake and gave him my name with a polite smile.

For most of this walk I kept silent, in a quieter mood and not being able to (or caring enough to) relate to most of their conversation (since they knew each other through a campus organization I wasn't a part of and that's mostly what they ended up talking about). As John and I took a right while Andrew was going straight, we said our goodbyes and I finished off with a "nice to meet you."

I saw Andrew the next day and didn't say hi. It's not that I was a complete dick or that he was either- it's just that I'm not particularly good with faces so by the time I realized it was him, it was too late to say hi. For a few days after that, we saw each other around campus and didn't really say hi (maybe a head nod or awkward and ambiguous smile for a few days but that faded out). Because of these awkward passing bys, I grew to fully recognize Andrew every time I saw him and yet as time went on, showed recognition of his presence less and less.

What was the point of meeting Andrew? Social norms dictate that John would have been rude unless he had introduced Andrew to me. Yet it seems every time I meet someone in one of these we're-both-stuck-in-a-brief-situation-with-a-mutual-acquaintance it turns into nothing but the awkwardness of having met and never saying hi again. Why is it that there's this understood code that after meeting someone in a very brief situation you don't say hi to them? I think it's some sort of fear of being "creepy" by remembering the person after so little time spent meeting them- after all caring is creepy and casual is cool. These days, it's not cool to remember people's names that you just met.

Don't get me wrong, obviously there are situations where you meet someone and say hi to them the next time you see them and perhaps even foster a great relationship with them afterwards. I think these are the exception to the rule. Think hard- I'd say in most of those cases you've heard about the person and think they're worth knowing/getting to know, they are good friends with your friend, or they actually make a very exceptional impression on you after a 30 second meeting (rare).

I know we all like to think of ourselves as super friendly and people who say hi to people after we meet them- but think to yourself honestly: how many people have you met, randomly in circumstances like i described, or maybe at a party (and don't blame it on being blackout) and then completely ignored the fact that you met them the next day when you walk past them. All it takes is not saying hi that first walk past each other the next day and then it's pretty much impossible to recover from (i.e. you will not say hi again unless you are reintroduced- in which case you will both probably act like you don't remember having met).

I'm not sure which to blame: this social norm that has developed of not saying hi after a brief meeting, or the person who introduces me to the person out of "politeness" (is it really "polite" when the person knows you two will likely have no future together?).

*As a solution (really a BandAid for a bullet wound), when I'm with a friend and they run into that acquaintance in front of me, and I don't feel like meeting them or don't think meeting them will foster any future relationship (or worse, we won't say hi the next time we see each other), I simply prolong the introduction as long as possible. Usually about a minute is the longest you can go. If you're in a group of 3 people and two of them haven't met, it is pretty much rude to not introduce the two who don't know each other after a minute has gone by. If it's a quick 20 second run-in though, and if the second person (me, in this case) is antisocial enough, he can avoid the forced, perfunctory (and of course pointless) introduction.