When I was a I kid, I was fortunate enough to spend my holidays in the country side, at my grandparents’. It was a true countryside, we didn’t have running water, and in the first few years we didn’t even have electricity. We used to make light with a gas lamp, and heat with woods.
People were different in the countryside. The first, and the most important difference, was that they were greeting each other on the streets. No matter if they knew each other or not. Greeting was part of the social norm. You cross paths with someone, you greet.
In the city, we didn’t have that. We were crossing paths with dozens, maybe hundreds of people every day. If we would have to greet them, we would have never be quiet. There would have been a continuous stream of greetings going on. It was impossible.
Greeting someone is a form of saying: “I see you, I observe you”. Even more, it’s a form of saying “here I am, I am making my presence felt”. In a way, when you greet someone – and I’m talking about that specific culture, with fewer people, and less interaction – you’re raising the predictability level. You make the space safer. It’s very uncommon to become aggressive if you first said: “Good day to you sir!”.
The main interaction space becomes more even, safer and, like I said, more predictable, just because you say a normal greeting.
Lately, I experienced this type of greeting in two more settings.
First, when I’m hiking. Portugal has quite a few hiking areas and I’ve been exploring a lot since I moved here. Almost every person I met on these hiking trails (not very remote, but quite desert) was greeting me. It was the same approach: “I see you, please hear me, we’re both good”.
The second, when I’m running. This is a bit more special, because it acts like some sort of a micro-setting. It happens even when I’m running in the city, on crowded streets. Bystanders are not even noticing me, but runners, oh, almost all are making some sort of greeting, if we make eye contact. It’s like we’re a specific population, with a common culture, which just happens to exist at the same time and in the same place with the people of Lisbon.
I find greetings fundamental for creating a less violent society. Especially when you don’t know the other person. It’s one of those things that are proven to work for thousands of years, no matter what.
I see you.