Saturday, September 22, 2018

Stranger Expectations

by AM Nelson (writer), Los Angeles, November 03, 2006

Upon day nine here in Los Angeles, the friendliness of strangers strikes me. Granted all but five people are strangers to me. However, I figure even the natives and long-term residents of LA encounter strangers on a daily basis. One begins to ask, what do I want from a stranger? Do I expect frozen chilliness, psychopathic tendencies, or just people going about their business? What are my stranger expectations?

In Los Angeles, I’ve observed a certain smile and acknowledgement. The uniqueness of this, I believe, is an LA-ism: a culturally defining act, motion, and habit.

Allow some illustration of difference. In small communities there exists a common smile combined with a head nod, often followed by vocalization. In rural areas the excitement of seeing another person outside of your family is greeted with a stereotypical Indian hand wave, perhaps even a friendly honk. In extremely isolated areas, the rush of greeting and smiling may be extended, or at least a lingering stare of curiosity will be exhibited.

In larger urban areas, I mostly notice the glazed indifference of non-existence. It amazes how individuals rush about on busy sidewalks without eye contact or facial expression except to cell phones. There is intense concentration on avoiding connection. The blur of automobiles on the freeways and major roads is an individual journey among a bunch of metal.

Here in Los Angeles, try walking around smiling. Express your inner joke on your face. I’m not suggesting the ever-constant grin of the mentally deranged, but rather a pleasant expression. See what happens.

I have noticed walking isn’t high on the list of Los Angelenos’ things to do, but take a smiling walk down the Venice Boardwalk. Yes, everyone here has talent, something to sell or give. You will be noticed. Shockingly, the spare-changers have comical lines to attract you, rather than cardboard signs and leprosy. The drunks have had voice lessons, and albeit canned and solicitous, are still somewhat entertaining. Where else can you get asked if you’ve had plastic surgery, offered a free piece of handmade jewelry, and get an authentic bear hug in 15 minutes? Employed people are walking about as well, enjoying the sunshine, taking photos, breathing the air. Noticeably absent is shoulder bumping, avoidant behavior, or that “bitch” glancing.

Similarly, the Promenade in Santa Monica offers a great opportunity to stroll. Shoppers with packages are careful not to bruise your legs and even make efforts to zigzag. Just as commonplace as cell phone users, so are people speaking to each other as they sip soft drinks and gossip: a kind, gentle gathering of consumers, happy to make room for one another.

There are sidewalks in Beverly Hills. People commonly park their cars, then traverse one or two cement sections. It is possible to walk farther, even blocks. I’ve done it recently and am alive to write about it. Somewhat roomy and empty, they wait for encounters. After receiving curious looks as if asking, “Is that walking behavior catching?” people do return a smile. Vocalizations are uttered, even friendly ones.

In downtown Los Angeles, suits are worn that contradict the typical suit-wearer’s creed of, “I’m too busy to breathe.” Eye contact, smiles, and hellos slowly emerge. Here, a comment of, “Even gold-diggers need an orgasm sometime,” is a valid form of stranger friendliness, unique to LA.

Should I comment on the roadways and freeways? Stares, looks, honks, beeps, signs, hand-gestures; these are all valid forms of communication between strangers not witnessed quite the same anywhere else.

I much prefer the acknowledging smile from Miss Slave-to-fashion on Melrose, the caddy lines of beach bums, and humorously insulting greetings, than any other stranger behaviors. This is not a fake LA, this is LA-ism of stranger expectations. I like LA.

About the Writer

AM Nelson is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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3 comments on Stranger Expectations

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By Annonymous on November 03, 2006 at 09:56 pm
Agreed! People are very friendly here. Is it because of the weather? is it because LA's streets aren't very crowded and it's actually pleasing to meet people while taking a stoll? I don't know. I actually don't care. I just love it :-) Great article.
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By Annonymous on August 01, 2007 at 04:50 pm
While well-written, I object to the phrase "stereoypical Indian hand wave". I'm Native American and see no reason why the writer couldn't just say "wave" or "hand wave". The wave is used by countless (but not all) cultures and ethnicities across the world. We all see the world through a particular lens, but in a citizen newspaper, one expects a writer to be sensitive to those from other cultures and ethnicities. One wonders how much time the writer has spent in rural areas, as there is not necessarily an "excitement in seeing people outside your family." It's just common politeness and courtesy. The writer implies that rural people are starved of interactions with non-family members. Please. Lastly, one might find that the writer's positive responses from strangers might in some way have to do with her physical appearance. Try wearing a fat suit with a different color skin and tell me if you think strangers are particularly friendly.
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By AM Nelson on August 01, 2007 at 05:31 pm
Thank you for the compliment and reading. The term is descriptive, not meant to offend. Yes, I have spent considerable years in rural areas. Please do not overlook the sense of joy this article is meant to evoke. It is about creating and appreciating the everyday.
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