Dan calls me the Syndicate because I love all e-mail correspondence, especially the embarrassing kind. There’s just something about the reply-all by accident that provokes people to confess their innermosts, or in this intriguing case, lack thereof. This was not a reply-all, it was an addressed-to.
The young lady who was the recipient of the e-mail was named Virginia (no it wasn’t, you know what I mean). She loved to run and also was the cashier at the MoChamp dining hall. God love Mochamp, I lived in that place. Danish lived across the common room. He was yelling every single time someone baited him on any subject; example: “Danish, do you think it’s OK for white people to like Kanye?” This was all happening, that’s the point.
There was a famous incident with Virginia where she was working in her food service role and she accidentally left her shirt open and it was open for so long that people were actually posting it on the Jolt (this was our geek net community) and encouraging others to come down and take a peek.
As such, this girl was the subject of considerable male attention, and it’s no surprise that one day the following e-mail hit her inbox from a young man named Anthony.
I was struck today by the fact that although we see each other around campus and Thayer St. quite often, there was a point at which we made a transition from a brief but polite acknowledgment as we passed, to a pointedly forced avoidance of eye contact and greetings.
Now, please don’t misunderstand me — I am ambivalent about this fact, since our initial tendency to greet one another was predicated upon a distinctly unimportant acquaintanceship… a two minute conversation at Starbucks, an awkward e-mail to ask if you were interested in running, a response to your post on the Jolt housing forum when I was looking for sub letters for the summer, etc.
And so on one hand, I feel as though it is just as well that we decided at some point to ignore one another and not say hello. I mean, with the frequency that we see each other around campus, and the fact that there is virtually no chance that we are going to be friends for numerous reasons, it makes sense to simply act as though we had never met. Saying hi to all the people that one barely knows at Brown can be tedious at times. There are certainly other people on campus that I have spoken to at some point briefly, that I don’t acknowledge as we pass on the street…
…but not many. In fact, even those people I have only had in a class or spoken to randomly at some point — let alone those with whom I have established some type of friendship or casual rapport — more often than not smile and say hi as we pass. Often I don’t even know their name.
And it seems silly in a sense to do this. What is the benefit of such meaningless greetings between virtual strangers? What is the local custom as it were, with regard to passing someone and saying hello? Certainly the cessation of casual greetings is effective when one wishes to send a message to someone else that no interest in friendship is present. But this defense might be unnecessarily drastic in some cases, as long as the people in question have the ability to understand more subtle signaling, and abide by reasonable standards and local customs.
In the Gambia, a small country in West Africa in which my cousin spent several years in the Peace Corps, where I had the opportunity to visit her for about a month, villagers always greet one another when they pass. This is no simple smile and hello either. They have a lengthy ritual that starts with an offering of peace, and continues on, sometimes for five minutes or more. The villagers ask (in Mandinka of course) how each other’s family is, the home, the well, the crops, and so forth. And they do this each time, regardless of how well they know each other.
Of course, we don’t live in the Gambia where the villages are comprised of a few thousand people. But the principle is the same. We do nonetheless establish a sense of goodwill through greetings — affirm that the social fabric is safe, and through such interactions give members of society a feeling of security.
Granted, in the States the degree to which people engage in polite small talk with strangers and greet acquaintances varies by region. The Northeast is certainly not known for its friendliness and, in contrast, the South has a reputation for being generous with niceties.
All this being said, I am in no way complaining or rebuking you for our mutual lack of acknowledgement. What I wish to suggest, however, is that it has come to a point (for me at least) where NOT saying hello is taking more effort that the harmless brief “hey there” and smile that normally is exchanged between the many people on the small campus that I pass by on a regular basis.
I chose to e-mail these thoughts to you, so as to not corner you in person with what could be an awkward conversation. In this way, you are completely free to read or not read, respond or not respond, and to agree or not agree, without being put on the spot.
This would, of course, have been a non-issue had I not overheard you say that you were a runner, and had I not been trying to find more advanced runners to go running with. Unfortunately, none of my good friends at Brown run very often if at all, and I doubt you and I would have met for any other reason.
It is a moot point now, however, since I am not going to be around as of the fall semester. I’m taking a leave of absence from Brown for a while for financial reasons and I’m leaving town at the beginning of September. I will likely not return until after you graduate, so the issue can safely be ignored.
But I did want you to know that I never had nor have presently any negative feelings toward you – and I certainly hope that you harbor no serious feelings of ill will toward me either.
It’s a bit weird, and the facts as presented are a bit contradictory, because on one hand I can say that I never had any romantic ambitions toward you and would not have taken any friendliness on your part in the wrong way… and on the other hand, were you a guy I would probably not be bothered by the fact that we stopped saying hi to each other, and would almost certainly not be writing this email. Don’t take it too seriously though… life is full of contradictions.
So, these are my thoughts as I came home from CVS, and I hope that they seem reasonable to you. I hope everything goes well for you over the coming years.
Ok, that’s all I have to say for now. Take care.
Tony we have to salute your everloving need to…kind of hit on girls.
Also I know this is a small point, but WTF is “the Gambia”? Is this kid on crack?
UPDATE: A more informed reader than us writes
The Gambia is a small West African country on a river, surrounded on all sides by Senegal. There are lots of mangoes, mosquitoes, and bush rats. There’s absolutely nothing to do there, or at least so says my good friend who just returned from observing four months of malaria research in the country.
I disagree that there is a country by this name, are you sure your friend wasn’t in the stomach of the Loch Ness Monster or something?
“All We Ever Wanted Was Everything” — Bauhaus (mp3)
Bauhaus official-like website