Friday, May 14, 2010

The Art of the Drive-By Conversation

(Note: This only applies to places that aren't downtown Houston, where people are rich, snobby, and rude.)

I've always considered myself a fairly courteous person--after working in customer service for eight years (God, I suddenly feel old), I've mastered the art of meet-and-greet, small talk, and chit chat.  I say "please" and "thank you," and I smile at people when I make eye contact with them.  (For those of you who don't know, most of this is beyond the call of duty in California, where you're lucky if someone looks at you if they accidentally hit you with their car.  Colorado is marginally more friendly, but not by much.)
Having been in Texas about a week, however, I've been struck again and again by how friendly the people here are.  Southern hospitality is no lie, I've discovered, and even driving down the street in a neighborhood, you're expected to wave to every single person you pass.  If you walk by someone on the sidewalk, it seems almost mandatory to smile, ask that person how s/he is doing, and make some other comment before saying good-bye in what I've come to think of as "the drive-by conversation." (This past weekend, for example, almost every person I passed wished me a happy Mother's Day.  In all my years on God's green earth, I've never had this happen.)

At first, I was a bit flabbergasted.  Having lived in downtown Denver for two years, I've become suspicious of anyone who's too friendly, as most of the friendlies in Denver turn out to work for Greenpeace and will follow you home if you let them. I slowly began to warm up to the small-town atmosphere in Houston (which I've heard described as "the biggest small town you'll ever visit").  Now, though, I'm becoming exhausted by the simple act of going to the store.  My face hurts from smiling too much at strangers, and I'm becoming irritated by common courtesies.

I think I need to work on my people skills.