Cultural: Small things, part 2
One of the hardest ones for me "to get" when I was first here was not saying hello to people when you saw them on the street - basically walking along ignoring people you meet (that you don't know) whether or not you make eye contact.
As a southerner, this just felt wrong.
Any of those words described how I felt when I walked along the street near our house and either refused to look people in the eye or just ignored them as I walked past.
After attempting to say a polite "hello" to a few people as I met them on the sidewalk and having no one respond I realized very quickly that "It's not done that way here." After a couple of very strange looks that said, "Do I know you?" I got the point.
OK. I got that down. You don't say "hello" to people you don't already know. They just think you're weird.
Then, I noticed when I walked into a small store, a doctor's office, or the post office, when people walked through the door they announced, "Hello" to everyone as the stepped into the room. People who were already inside muttered, "Hello" in response.
I know, I know. I'm not supposed to get irritated...I'm the guest here. But I did.
It frustrated me.
The same person, outside on the sidewalk thinks I'm the strange one if I make eye contact and say "hello". What changes by walking 10 feet further, opening a door and walking inside the post office or a small store?
It seemed so "two faced".
And it seemed that way to me for a long time. It wasn't until I was at our church, after the service one day when I was telling an older man about this phenomenon that I thought was weird when he explained it to me.
He told me that during communist times, when you walked into a small store, you, the customer ALWAYS spoke nicely to the owner of the little store. You said, "Hello" and asked how he/she was doing. Why? Well, because this owner had the goods.
He had the "stuff" and only a limited amount of it. If he didn't like you or think you were being polite to him, he wouldn't sell you bread, or cheese, or a blouse, or whatever.
And if he didn't sell it to you, you didn't have any. It was quite simple.
"Aha! Now I understand!" I exclaimed to him.
So, the tradition of being extra polite when you walk through the door of a small store continues, even though the free market is in full swing here and the store owners no longer have that kind of control over the customers' lives like they apparently used to.
Once I understood the reasoning behind this seemingly inconsistent "friendliness" - it was better for me. At least it FINALLY made sense. Now when people walk through the door of a small shop and announce "Hello", I know why they are doing it.
I'm still not very Polish though. I don't even mutter "hello" back most of the time.