Over the past three weeks, I conducted a mini personal experiment. I can't really call it a scientific experiment because I didn't control all the variables and my hypothesis was more of an adventure. The objective was to greet 5 strangers a day for three weeks with simple words such as "Hello" or "Good Morning" and then record their responses. I tried to be unobtrusive in my recordings so as not to skew results or put my safety in danger.
Because I basically wanted to learn the reactions of strangers being greeted, I tried not to have any assumptions or expectations. Dude, this was hard! I rarely greet strangers as I am an introvert and I like a lot of solitude. So, on a side note, I learned that I can be friendly to strangers and not die. All-in-all, let's call what I did "pseudo" science and here are the results.
I greeted a total of 105 people in three weeks. Seventy of them were on public transportation. Of this number, 51 greeted me back. Yeah, I had to do the math and that's less than half.
Of the 54 people who did not return my greeting, all but one looked at me with expressions of mistrust and disdain for interrupting them. Now if this was pure science, I couldn't have said that. But I can read faces fairly well and I know how I felt. And the remaining person didn't even look at me. She just kept texting.
Now on to the people who did return my greeting. 45 of them said "Hi", "Hello" or "Good Morning" while looking at me, then promptly returned to their tasks. Even if that task was looking out the window. 5 of them returned the same words with a smile and two of them also added a quick social comment about the weather. And one of them, who was intoxicated, returned the greeting and went on with a lengthy discourse about how many times he had been in jail.
Well, I didn't learn anything factual or definitive from this little study but I did gain personal insights and feelings that matched my instincts. If feels like most people don't want their personal space invaded by strangers. There is a sense of distrust that if people say "Hi", they either want something from you or they are potentially dangerous. I also wonder if more people would have responded if I was young and fit society's definition of pretty. Alas, I will never know. I also learned that three children said "Hi" to me before I did, so they weren't part of the study. But it was beautiful and made me feel sad that we lose that as we age. I learned to get out of my shell a bit. Personal growth.
And as this little pseudo experiment reaches its conclusion, it occurs to me that if we never, ever talked to strangers, we would have no friends.