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The Odd Greeting

Walking offers a unique experiment in etiquette. My upbringing as a hiker trained me to greet everyone I passed along the way with at minimum a “hello”. But this doesn’t go over well in some places. People are naturally on guard for the unwelcome intrusion on personal space on city sidewalks, but surprisingly on rail trails too.

Sure, I understand a female jogger not wanting to invite trouble by being too engaging on a trail with a tall stranger walking towards them. Completely understandable that you’d want to minimize risk. But I am surprised by the number of men who avoid eye contact, let alone a curt “Hi” as you march on by. Such is the world we live in where sensational outcome stories run top of mind, like a bleeds-it-leads story on the 6 o’clock news.

I don’t push the issue. You know within five paces whether someone is a greeter or not. Which presents another etiquette problem. At what point in your walk towards each other is it proper to make eye contact, say your greeting and look away. Staring at someone as you walk towards them is unnerving at best, will get you berated or physically assaulted at worst. No, a quick glance over at two paces, a clever remark as warranted or a quick hello and back to the path with those eyes. Staring after a greeting is right up there with pre-greeting staring, with the same result just as likely.

I’ve found that the more you’ve worked to get wherever you happen to be passing someone, the more likely there will be a greeting. Hiking the White Mountains? Pretty likely. Walking the path across Boston Common? Improbable. Unless you’re brought together by circumstance. Like walking in a snowstorm or driving rain, when you greet each other with that “can you believe this?” look. Shared experience builds comradely, if only for a brief moment. And really, we’re all in this together, aren’t we? Well, except for those people who hike with earbuds in. They’re definitely flying solo.

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