Monday, May 4, 2009

the hello sandwich

Saying hello has never been instinctual for me. One of my goals when I started my job in February was to always greet my coworkers when I passed by their office or saw them in the hall. Still, 50% of the time I regress to the turtle smile - a flicker of eye contact while the corners of my mouth draw straight back to my ears and my lips press together tightly. The veins in my neck probably bulge a little, too, but I refuse to check that in a mirror. Either way, the turtle smile is not exactly a "top of the morning to you".

Sometimes saying hello is genuinely difficult. Two of my sisters and I discovered this while hiking at Zion's National Park a few years back. As the three of us marched single file down the one-way trail, passing or being passed by another hiker, the first person could say hello just fine. As could the last. But the middle one was stuck in the "hello sandwich". They couldn't greet right after the first person because it didn't give the other party a chance to reciprocate, but if they waited an appropriate space of time, they were cut off by the third person.

Solution? Turtle smile. And if the veins didn't bulge before, imagine what happens when you're huffing and puffing along the trail. No wonder so many people would ask just how much longer did they have to go?

You can see how all of this gets complicated when the other party has 3 people in it, too. It's like a Big Mac - the third bun wedged in the middle makes an already uncomfortable experience downright disastrous.

Another problematic greeting situation is the post-appropriate hello. Where you really should have said hello much sooner and are now in the awkward position of either ignoring someone indefinitely or admitting outright to your hello shyness.


I was at my bus stop near work the other day and saw someone I was sure I knew. But I couldn't for the life of my figure out how I knew this person, and I convinced myself that however I knew them, it was some very awkward context - like someone I had been in a group with in school but didn't get along with. We kept catching each other sneaking sideways glances, until the bus came. Saved!

Imagine my despair when he was at my stop again a few weeks later.

(conversation inside Erin's head)
Just say hello. Do it now, before it gets awkward. You can still say it, there's still time. If you don't do it now, you'll regret it. Just ... Oh, well. Now the greeting stage of social norms is over. You'll have to get his attention first if you want to say anything. Don't look now unless you're going to. You're looking! ...where's the bus?...

Eventually I decided to say hello. Just as I did, I suddenly remembered where I knew this person from, remembered his name, and realized that there wasn't anything awkward about how we knew each other. After I blurted out his name in a rush of desperate enthusiasm, the result was a good conversation, and vastly improved future encounters.

Which is what I told myself this morning, when I finally said hello to the person I've been standing next to at the bus stop near my house for the last 4 months. And which turned out to be true.


Sarah Black said...

The hello sandwich! I had forgotten about that. I think that was the same hiking trip where I coined the greeting "hellay" after being unable to decide under pressure whether to say hey or hello to an oncoming hiker. The bus crowd is much friendlier than the metro crowd.

Chelsea said...

so true--I think I have perfected the turtle smile, if such a thing could be perfect.

Mamacita said...

Erin, when are you going to become a newspaper columnist? Your posts are like reading Erma Bombeck or Dave Barry. I love them (but then I am a bit biased).

Stapletons said...

ha ha! You described that situation to a tee!