The bus rumbles through the intersection and I reach up to pull the cord; a loud “ding” tells the driver to let me off at the next stop. We lurch to a halt, and I stand, stumbling, and make my way to the doors, which swing open, allowing a blast of humid air to rush onto the blessedly well-air-conditioned bus. “Thanks!” I say to the driver with a wave as I step out into the heat for my short walk to the office. “Have a great day!” she says as she closes the door and pulls away. A few feet away a young mother struggles to keep two toddlers in hand and moving in the right direction. “Good mornin'” she says as I pass, my pace quicker than that of the toddlers. “Good mornin'” I say with a smile at the kids. Farther down the road I pass a woman I see every morning as we walk to our respective offices. She smiles at me. “Good Mornin'” I say. “How ya doin’?” she asks. We smile at each other and keep on walking. As I wait at the corner to cross the street, a jogger whizzes by and breathlessly says “Mornin'” as she whips past. As I walk down King I pass two older men, who nod at me. “Mornin’!” I say with a smile. “Mornin’!” they reply. In the parking lot I see a parking enforcement officer writing tickets. I am briefly thankful that riding the bus means no parking tickets. “Mornin’!” he says with a nod. “Mornin’!” I reply. I smile as I walk into my building and press the button for the elevator.
It occurred to me on my walk from bus stop to office that it must be hard being an introvert in the South. In the short 2 block walk down George St. all the people I passed said, “Good Mornin'” to me, with a smile. I’ve always had a habit of talking to strangers, so I love that it’s normal and acceptable and even expected here that you say “Good Morning” to people as you pass them on the street, that you will chat with the person you sit next to on the bus, that you will make small talk with the person standing behind you in the checkout line, and that you will have an ongoing rapport with the person who swipes your parking pass or cleans out the trash cans in your office.
I know about the trials and tribulations of many of the regulars on my bus. Like the woman with diabetes and an adorable new grandbaby. Or the lady with 17 cats and an ailing mother with dementia. Or the church lady who has a hard time with the fact that her husband is retired and she isn’t.
I haven’t lived outside the South, but it only took one week of riding the Metro while in Washington D.C. to realize that it’s not normal or acceptable elsewhere to chat with strangers. Not only did I stand out in a sea of black wool coats by wearing bright red, I also shocked Beltway types by daring to chat with them on the bus. They looked at me like I had four heads. I cut it out by the first stop.
Now I’m not saying I think Southern people are kinder or nicer or more friendly than people in other parts of the country. You only have to get to know the proper usage of “bless her heart” or “God love him” to know that we can sugar-coat a bitter pill better than many folks. But I do think that we have a social expectation of talkin’ to each other that others don’t, and I have to admit, I love it. By the time I get to my office, how can I NOT have a smile on my face after saying “good mornin'” to seven different people? As we face a possible move in the next year, one that very well may take me out of the South for the first time, I think what I’ll miss more than anything is the chit chat.