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14.7.03

A while back I met the cleaning lady in the dorm where I'm staying. She asked me how Dayton compared to the other places I've been (basically the northeast). I told her that people in Dayton were much friendlier, which surprised her (she must never have been to Massachussetts). People on the street here will say hi for no reason other than to say hi. People in the grocery store joke with me about the amount of stuff I have crammed into one of those little baskets. As I was writing the previous post, the woman at the computer next to me noticed it and struck up a conversation about GM food.

It feels wrong to disparage friendliness, but in a way it makes me uncomfortable. Perhaps it's just that I'm an introvert. But more so, I think it's an issue of social communication. As we learn how to behave in a society, we come to understand certain behaviors as signals for certain meanings. In the northeast, for example, striking up a conversation with a stranger (particularly on the basis of something you saw on their computer screen) would mark you as a nosy person. Talking to someone on the street signals that you want something from the person you're speaking to. But in Dayton (and presumably throughout the midwest and south), those signals indicate friendliness and sociability. Northerners aren't less friendly people than southerners so much as they communicate their personality differently. So when someone crosses into the other culture, their ability to make sense of subtle social communication is disturbed. They don't know what to make of people's behavior.

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