Every morning I go on a run along the Thames at about 6:30 am. A beautiful run on a rocky bath alongside a green river. I pass narrow boats docked for the night, see ducks and geese floating along without a care in the world, and avoid hitting my fellow early risers. I do this every morning, the same as I did in Colorado and in San Francisco. Just a little bit of uniformity in my schedule to make me feel at home. While the action is the same, I listen to the same playlist, I wear the same spandex pants and nike tennis shoes with the hole in the toe, this morning run is distinctly different. There is no way that I could forget that I am in fact in another country while doing this rather mundane activity. It's not because of the cows or the river or the gypsy boats, no those things aren't odd. It's the fact that I am completely alone. Sure there are other runners, an old couple walking a dog, a young man biking to class, but given the attention I receive it would appear as if I am in complete solitude. There are no nods hello, no cheery "good mornings!", and certainly not a stop for a chat. Occasionally there are smiles, but without teeth, of recognition. It's not just on my early morning run that I encounter this kind of behavior, it's ubiquitous. This is weird to me. In the states I am used to being accosted from every which way as soon as I step out my front door (in San Francisco at least, not so much Colorado except by elks and cows). By American standards I have RBF–translation here– simply because I don't smile and greet everyone with a giant hug and over excited "Hello!". However here in England I am essentially a Disney princess, all giggles and grins like Giselle. At first I thought, "wow everyone here is so grumpy". But I don't think that is the case. I don't think that they are angry. I don't think they are indifferent to those around them. I think it is because they genuinely respect privacy and uphold modesty in behavior. You don't go around pushing your nose into other people's business here, you just don't. I think that this kind of decency is stitched throughout the quilt of English history. It is a part of their DNA because of the simple fact that they are an island. And not just an island, but a great nation on a relatively small island. There are a lot of people here, particularly in London. Everything is just a little closer together which makes finding privacy a little hard. So, how do you compensate for close quarters when you don't have an entire western section of the country to expand into? You learn how to find solitude in crowds. Having a stranger greet you on the street with an absurdly large smile would be comparable to having a giant storm into your living room at tea time. Rude. There are definitely some faults in this system. A smile on the street can brighten any day–particularly one marked with the characteristic English weather. On the other hand though, I think there are some benefits to this sense of public privacy. I have often found that it is hard to tell genuine kindness and openness in a culture that treats everyone as a BFF. Is that person really my friend or are they just that nice to everyone? Are they sincerely concerned about my wellbeing or are they simply asking because it is "the thing to do"? It's hard to create a real sense of community when every single person has a smile plastered on their faces 24/7. I know this might shock you, but just hear me out. We have all at least once in our lives gone through a photo session where you have to stand smiling at various cameras whilst trying not to giggle or cry and constantly shifting weight between feet trapped in uncomfortable shoes. I am, of course, referring to homecoming, prom, weddings, etc. After a while your smile, while at first genuine, begins to fade and your cheeks start to go numb. The best pictures are those ones caught in an instant of genuine happiness. Those rare captured moments of laughter at a joke, a hug of reunited friends, a great surprise. That's kind of what a smile in England like, it shows that someone actually has noticed you as an individual, not as simply another part of the mass of faces. Then if someone actually strikes up a conversation with you, wow, they actually want to be your acquaintance. They may even want to be your friend. I think this leads for a more honest society. It makes social-ness so much easier.
I am not sure where I am going this and I am really really tired and my mind is slightly overflowing from class today...I just want to leave you with some thoughts. Is going around life like an advertisement for Yoplait really the best way to portray genuine kindness? Or does it lead to cheek numbness and a disdain for those you are "required" to smile at? Is that really the best way to make friends and create a community?
Sure there are pros and cons of every culture, but I just think it is important to take into consideration those of others than just our own.
Then again, it would be pretty hard to be cheery and smily all the time when surrounded by such imposing buildings and beauty. Why smile when the surroundings can do it for you?