My mother and I often have a debate about whether it is polite to say “hello” to people who are almost strangers. I — and most normal people — think it is stark raving bonkers. My mother thinks that I only think this because I was brought up in the east. I think that’s just racist.
My mother assures me that in Glasgow people — complete strangers — say hello to each other all the time. This is clearly untrue. For a start, if everybody said hello to everybody the greeting would become meaningless and you might as well not say hello at all. And it’s more efficient to say nothing, which is why strangers don’t say hello to each other.
Even so, if you accept that Glaswegians are more likely to say hello to strangers, then it’s only because the greeting is swiftly followed by, “Any spare change pal?”, or a knife in the chest. If it isn’t, they are probably a raging drunkard who has mistaken you for their long-lost uncle.
I’m not just going on one of my anti-Glasgow rants here you know. Every sane person thinks that it’s not normal to say hello to strangers. Matt T for instance.
Today, for what is the first time in the thousands of walks to the tube station I have made, a complete stranger said ‘Good morning’ to me as I we were passing in the street. Furthermore he wasn’t – or at least didn’t appear to be – in any way mentally ill.
My mother would say that he was just being friendly. But it is not friendly to go up to a stranger and say hello. In fact, it’s difficult to imagine anything that is more impolite. We all know from past experience that a stranger starting a conversation means one of two things. The first is that you are about to have a conversation with somebody who is utterly bonkers. The second is that you are about to have the most boring conversation you have ever had in your entire life.
There was one particular incident that made the purchase of an MP3 player my top priority. It was no longer a luxury item that would merely keep me entertained on those long journeys. It had become a necessity.
I was coming home from university, and my face was buried in a book. I was trying to revise, you see. Most people would take this as a kind of ‘do not disturb’ notice. Not the absolute dullard who sat next to me. The ticket inspector came along to check our tickets. So far it’s all very mundane. Once the conductor had moved out of earshot this person looked up at me and showed me the ticket that had been printed out for him.
He pointed at the price, as if I was meant to know what a single from South Gyle to Kirkcaldy costs. Several seconds later he finally opened his mouth. “Look, I’ve been overcharged.”
“Oh really?”, I replied.
“Yeah, look. He’s done me out of twenty pence.”
What are you supposed to say to somebody like this? My awful train neighbour was the sort of person who would make a fuss over twenty pence. But people like this are common. I’ve learned over these past few months working in a shop that people will do anything to save even the smallest amount of money — even though they certainly could have done something much more productive with their time. But it was clear that our poor overcharged soul had expected more of a reaction from me.
About ten minutes later, obviously still seething from the whole experience, he piped up again from absolutely nowhere. “That conductor is very crafty. I bet he’s got a Porsche. It all mounts up you know.” Yeah, I know exactly what you mean. Because you were overcharged twenty pence, the conductor must have a sports car. Shut up!
I would rather not have to deal with dodgy, boring old men who have nothing better to do than complain to a student about losing twenty pence. So I bought an MP3 player because it is a very visible ‘do not disturb’ sign. It is useful even if you’re not listening to music. People say that it is anti social. But it’s the only way I can stop myself from actually hating people.