Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Culture Clash: WNY Small Talk

  Americans are often derided for the "Have a Nice Day” approach to life. On my visits back to Britain, I see it's beginning to creep in there as well. But perhaps we could still learn something from them. After years of suffering London shop assistants who won’t even lift their heads from their mobile phone conversations to serve you, it’s actually quite refreshing, in our local small town, to have someone come bounding up as soon as I enter a shop and start browsing, with a “Hiya! How ya doin’ today?”  The first time it happened, I assumed the assistant thought I was up to no good and gave her a sort of “I’m innocent, please leave me to mind my own business” look. But I’ve had to learn to go with the flow and accept that they’re not just actors trained to get you to spend money. They really are pleased to see you. Etiquette demands a sort of initial ritual sequence which answers “How ya doin’?” with “Good – and you?” and after a few more pleasantries, “Take it easy!” with “You bet!” When you’ve made either your purchase or your escape, you find - Britons take note - that things have now moved on from “Have a nice day”. Nowadays, it’s “Have a good one”, or, any time after lunch, the intriguing “Have a Nice Night!” Oh yes and somewhere along the line, you have to bring in the weather – “Stay warm!” in winter;  “Stay cool!”  in summer.
   So I’m gradually getting into the small talk. And speaking of small talk, the first time I went for a health check here, the nurse wrote down my cholesterol count on a piece of paper, “In case people ask you about it at parties.”  I have been anticipating this experience with some trepidation, but so far no one has asked. I suppose I go to the wrong sort of parties. 

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