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, Iâ€™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. Iâ€™m not suggesting the ever-constant grin of the mentally deranged, but rather a pleasant expression. See what happens.
I have noticed walking isnâ€™t high on the list of Los Angelenosâ€™ 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 youâ€™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 â€œbitchâ€ 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. Iâ€™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, â€œIs that walking behavior catching?â€ people do return a smile. Vocalizations are uttered, even friendly ones.
In downtown Los Angeles, suits are worn that contradict the typical suit-wearerâ€™s creed of, â€œIâ€™m too busy to breathe.â€ Eye contact, smiles, and hellos slowly emerge. Here, a comment of, â€œEven gold-diggers need an orgasm sometime,â€ 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.
WORLD - CITY LIVING
Copyright © 2010 AM Nelson
Copyright © 2010 AM Nelson
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