June 15, 2006

Friendliness to strangers

Last weekend Justin and I went for a stroll down the Grand Union Canal – a very pleasant way to spend an hour or two. Whilst we walked I was struck by something I'd almost forgotten about but that I have been intending to blog for quite a while.

Almost every time we came across someone a generation or more above us we exchanged a 'hello', 'good afternoon' or something similar and we even struck up a short conversation with a couple on a passing canal boat. This was the same when I used to go walking and cycling in the South Downs at home. However, I'd probably think twice about doing the same with someone of my own generation. This to me seems to be a real shame.

Why have we stopped being friendly? Is it because we have become more aware of the potential risks posed by strangers? If so, why should someone of the younger generation necessarily pose less of a risk than an older person? Why are we so friendly when out in the countryside, for example, whereas similar exchanges are not usually seen on the streets of a town? Is it the expression of some feeling of companionliness with someone who obviously enjoys a similar pastime?

- 5 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. julie

    I agree, the elderly are usually more friendly.
    Very occasionally young chaps will start a conversation but never young girls, and I am a woman in my 40's so you would think that I would be reasonably safe to talk to. I think that most young girls are stuck up and spoilt!!!

    15 Jun 2006, 14:44

  2. James

    Sarah, I agree with your observation. I think it stems from the fact that civility and manners are no longer taught at school. That in turn stems from the fact that views on manners are thought judgmental, or elitist, or some other such rubbish. I mean, there are schools nowadays where the teachers have retitled themselves 'learners', and principals 'head learners'. Just what sort of respect is that likely to engender in anyone?

    Another facet is that so much communication is electronic these days. Even then, however, you'd hope that it would be done in a civilised manner. Even on these blogs, established in the name of a reputable university, that isn't always the case. I have just started my own blog and have exhorted any visitors to be as forthright as they like, because I don't see the point in running a blog otherwise. Yet on several occasions when sending responses to published web addresses I have had vitriolic responses from people who didn't like me judging them, only for them to get more than judgmental – downright rude – to me. Bizarre.

    At least our generation had the benefit of growing up in an environment where adults were quick to reprimand children for a lack of manners. These days a proverbial 'slap on the wrist' will likely land the person responsible in jail. What effect will this have on the next generation? As well as those adults who lack any manners themselves, those that have some standards are fearful of chiding children because of the threat of parental retribution. Men are afraid of being friendly to children for fear of being mistaken for paedophiles. How will all this affect our children?

    15 Jun 2006, 15:07

  3. I often say hello to older folk when out walking because I sometimes I think they might be threatened by a younger person, so it relieves the tension a bit.

    With younger people I say hi too, if they look the type, and they say hello back.

    It is only a few younger people who haven't been brought up with manners that give a bad reputation to the rest of us.

    15 Jun 2006, 15:14

  4. Terry Freedman

    Hi, Sarah

    This is an intersting observation. I think the following:

    1. That it depends on context. For example, if you are walking around the gardens of a stately homeor in a nice country park somewhere, people are more likely to be friendly. Perhaps it's because implicitly all are sharing a common purpose.

    2. I wonder if MySpace and similar things are so popular because they enable people to be friendly to strangers without being or feeling threatened.

    3. I don't have much trouble being friendly to strangers, but I have noticed that if I say anything to girls (eg a couple of weeks ago I asked 2 girls if they needed any help getting somewhere because they were trying to figure out the London tube map) I got a look as if to suggest that I was chatting them up!


    24 Jun 2006, 09:40

  5. I also think context is important – I would say hello to people if I was walking along the canal, walking/cycling on the South Downs, walking down a country lane (in daylight!), walking alone a village road (maybe) or possibly in a park, but depends on the park… In fact, rather than saying hello, I'd probably say "morning" or "afternoon", whichever was appropriate.

    I would probably say this to most people, but probably not people under the age of about 20. And not young men if I was walking alone. Much easier for a couple to say "morning" to a couple, regardless of age. Even easier still if one of the couples is walking a dog!! I'm sure it's something to do with a shared common purpose i.e. enjoying the outdors/countryside etc. And also, when speaking to older couples, a kind of "good morning, we're a respectable, friendly couple, so don't worry" kind of thing…

    I would not, however, say hello to strangers walking along a normal street, standing on a train station platform, or walking around uni campus.

    Interesting one… Oddly, I spoke to mopre strangers as a teenager! On trains, in pubs, in shops…

    27 Jun 2006, 10:08

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