Saturday, April 02, 2016

Oh the humanity!

In the big city, whenever I was out and about among the multitudes, I smiled a hi at the people walking past.  Not one smiled back.  Not even one.  It is not that they did not see me.  Even after the visual contact, they simply kept going.

After life in the small town that is precious home to me for fourteen years, well, I have been thoroughly spoiled by my fellow residents.  People are friendly.  Strangers smile. They even say hi.  We recognize the presence of a fellow human.

In the big city, the homeless were the only ones who seemed to recognize me.  One nodded his head in acknowledgement.

The older I get, and the more I think about what it means to be human, the more I am troubled by even such things as not even one person smiling back a hello.  It is not as if I went half way around the world and behaved in the Eugene manner.  Oh wait, I have done that too!

In the big city, there are a lot more people to observe, whether or not anybody cared about my existence there.  Humans are fascinating to watch.  I have no idea why people watch cat videos on Facebook; observing fellow humans is phenomenally more entertaining and educational at the same time.

I was waiting for the niece in the area that two decades ago a columnist referred to as "urine square."  That area has since gone through quite a revival.  Rarely did I smell urine there!

One elderly couple walked past me. Each had a cane to help them in their perambulation.  The woman walked with the cane on her left and the man--who was walking to her right--held his cane on his right hand.  "Don't talk to me" she said in her frail voice.  "You know it gives me ulcer."

I am not sure if even the funniest scriptwriters in Hollywood can come up with such scenarios and lines.  On the other hand, maybe all they do is hang out and places like these and merely record what they see and hear and then, presto, a movie scene.  But, surely Nora Ephron did not watch anything close to that scene in the real world and it was all her imagination.

Of course, most people seem to have a smartphone in their hands.  The young seem to look at the screen every other second.  One young man, perhaps in his late twenties, slowly walked past me and he was not looking at this smartphone.   It turns out that there was a reason--hey, even I could hear the phone giving him instructions.  "Now turn left."  Directions.  In the old days, you could always spot the tourists because they would be the ones holding maps in their hands and looking all confused.  With hesitation, they would ask a passerby for help.  Now, Siri takes care of all of us wanderers.

If only Siri can remind us to say hello to a fellow human!


Ramesh said...

Another example of your unique ability to take an everyday occurrence and convert it into a deep post. Well done.

The smile and the nod to a passerby is very cultural. It may be American, but its not British and certainly not Indian. But the interest in fellow human beings that you write about is very true. The advent of the smartphone has taken a worsening trend and made it disastrous. In any case on the phone what the person is doing is forwarding some inane stuff to every group on WhatsApp ! Or like you, making a scintillating tweet to the effect that he is bored :)

To gregarious people , this must be tough. By the way, are you a gregarious hermit ?

Anne in Salem said...

I imagine most people are lost in thought or worrying about something - being late, finances, health - so don't realize there is a world outside their bodies as they walk down the street. I am sure there are plenty who choose not to respond, for whatever reason, but I'm equally sure there are plenty who don't even see the smiles and the friendliness.

If such friendliness is a solely American trait, then bravo for the Americans. We can all use a smile from a stranger on occasion.

Sriram Khé said...

I would assume that most hermits are sincerely interested in humanity. Hermits are rarely misanthropes. Right?

The smartphone and other technological features are rapidly changing the way we interact with fellow humans in space and time. I am not convinced that such communication technology is doing us any good with respect to understanding what it is to be human.

Yes, such friendliness is very much an American trait. Bravo, indeed. One of the many reasons to proudly admit to being an American ;)

Rob and Sara said...

It's definitely an American trait (and not an Indian one) to speak to random people on the street. But when we do that in India, people seem startled & amazed -- and then pleased, if they're from the lower strata of Indian society.

It brings to mind a day, long ago, when we were walking down the street with an Indian family in their home town. A man who was approaching from the opposite direction was staring a it, and so Rob spoke to him: "Hello! Good morning!" And the little boy in our party tugged at Rob's sleeve & stage whispered, horrified: "Rob Uncle! We don't just talk to people like that!"

Sriram Khé said...

A distinctly American habit that often makes the American traveler come across as an eager-beaver, happy-go-lucky, person. I tell ya, I am an American who was accidentally born in India ;)

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