I just took a long concrete walk in Berkeley. I realize the Bay Area has endless hiking opportunities, but after Sheffield, I found I wanted some urban experience. The area north of Fourth Street is suitable for this. You can shop like a citified metro-citizen; then continue along into a messier world of railroad tracks and humming factories producing mysterious somethings – all for free, and also free of yoga pants.
Folks in California seem readier to chat than people in England. Perhaps the weather encourages more relaxed banter. Whatever the reason, I found in England I missed being able to talk easily with people I didn’t know and would never meet again. I made more than a few store clerks look nervously around for security when I would attempt a silly American joke in a very buttoned-up British Debenham’s department store. I learned in the UK to suppress that urge, and now I’m thinking quite a lot about the “passing the time” kind of remarks that Americans don’t hesitate to make to one another. Strangely though – I haven’t thought every casual comment from every one I encountered today was necessarily in friendliness. Some remarks were just downright odd.
Evidence #1: Crossing a busy street on foot in Berkeley. A woman noticed my hesitation to cross in front of so many irritated drivers, and invited me, “Let’s go together!” How chummy! But we parted with such haste after our safe passage. How quickly our companionship evaporated!
Evidence #2: At the Bank of America ATM, the woman with sunglasses+dog+workout gear tossed exclamations over her shoulder at me by way of explanation: “It’s not reading them!” “It’s still not!” “I’m almost done!” “If you need to deposit checks, it’s not reading them!” I had nothing much to add to this one way conversation, so I just studied my Barclay’s bank card and wondered instead why “chip and pin” hasn’t caught on the the US. It’s used so widely in England that even the train employees wear the small computers on their belts. In England, as long you remember your PIN, you can get by all day and night with no cash at all in your pocket.
Evidence #3: “How is your day going so far?” “Have a great Rest Of The Day!” “Did you find everything you were looking for?” “Your savings today are ….. ” I just don’t recall anyone in England flinging me these banal greetings in banks, stores, or post offices. I miss the South Yorkshire salutation: “Ya’ all ri-ight?” There is no adequate answer to “Y’all right?” but there is also no answer to “Are you finding everything okay?” – I wanted to yell at the seventh person in Safeway who asked me this, “Yes – and I’m also finding a whole lot of people who are trapped in a corporate demand to chase me down with that remark when I’m just staring blankly at the wall trying to remember if I’m almost out of toilet paper!” But I won’t ever, ever utter those cranky words. We’re all the same – people who encounter other people on a regular basis, and have to find a system for connecting, or managing, or defending, or handling. Not much difference by continent, that. Cheers.