Let’s not discuss the pedestrian while walking

Ellen Carpenter Column

For some reason, Northwestern kids have a difficult time just saying hello.

You know the scene: You’re on your way to class and you see a friend, an acquaintance really, but someone you should acknowledge. Simple, right? Just smile, say “hi” and keep on walking. I’m afraid it’s not that easy.

Without thinking, you decide to be extra-friendly and ask “how are you doing?” Or possibly your acquaintance takes the next step and offers the seemingly appropriate “What’s up?” Bad form, my friends. Because when it comes down to it, you don’t have time to ask this pointless question and you don’t really want to know the answer. It’s OK. I feel the same way you do (and please know that we can be honest with each other in this column).

When you get stuck in this situation, all you want is for the other person to smile and reply “good” or “not much.” Telling the truth is highly discouraged. If you answer “How are you doing?” with a “Not so good” or “What’s up?” with an “Everything. I’m an absolute wreck,” you’re putting the asker on the spot — which isn’t fair because you know she needs to get to Technological Institute and she doesn’t have time to hear you complain about the lack of spring skirts in your closet.

In a sense, greetings like this foster deception. With each of these casual walk-bys, we are forced into open-faced lying. And didn’t your mother teach you that lying is bad?

These simple questions also cause confusion and embarrassment.

Example 1:

“Hey. What’s up?”

“Great.”

Example 2:

“How’s it going?”

“Nothing much.”

Embarrassing, eh? I know. Just last week a kid I work with offered a basic “Hello, Ellen,” and I responded by saying “good.” He probably thought I was smoking crack. (I’m not denying anything.)

It’s so easy to become befuddled by these basic salutations. We expect one, and somehow another always sneaks up on us. Sometimes people throw in questions about the weather that we’re not prepared for. And why? The fact that it’s sunny is not worth discussing during the two-second walk-by. Yes, it’s sunny; I can see that, so do we really have to talk about it?

Questions like this often lead to walk-ons — you know, when you’re walking away from each other but still trying to finish your “conversation.” Talk about awkward. For starters, you have to raise your voice so they can hear you, and this often causes other passers-by to think you’re talking to them. You also have to contort your body in a terribly unattractive fashion to walk ever-slightly sideways so you’re still facing each other though by now you’re practically miles apart. This clumsy sidestep often leads to bump-ins with strangers or at least with their backpacks.

Now I’m not saying we shouldn’t greet each other in public. I’m a big advocate of the smile, the hip upwards head-nod and the friendly “Hey, there.” Heck, I even smile at people I don’t know. Remember, I’m from the South where people are sugar-coated with kindness. I just think we need to cut back on the superfluous questions.

If this is too difficult, you could just buy a Discman and avoid casual campus encounters. Poor walk-by etiquette is excused, after all, if you’re wearing headphones.

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Let’s not discuss the pedestrian while walking