I went for a long walk this morning in the unexpected dazzle of spring sunshine. It makes all the difference when every other day dawns under a thick, grey sky. Whenever I walk, I pass lots of different people – the blonde mums walking their kids to school (three steps in front while the nanny juggles two kids and all their schoolbags); men with briefcases; teenage girls deftly texting as they sidestep lampposts and ditches, all without looking up.
I’ve started forcing myself to say good morning to everyone I pass. A friend from Belgium walked with me once and marvelled that English people were so unfriendly. He said that everyone, young and old greets each other in Belgium, even if they cross paths all the time. A little ashamed, I realised that I didn’t often make the effort to acknowledge anyone. Maybe I’m shy, or just lazy, or maybe we’ve all fallen out of the habit.
The gentle art of saying hello seems tied to slower times, or perhaps just more rural settings. One of the opening scenes of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast sees the heroine, Belle, sing a wistful song about how she wants to leave her provincial country life where nothing ever happens, and everyone is in her business. It may not sound much fun, but the entire song is based around her greeting everyone in the village, and I always remember wishing I lived in a town where every morning was full of so many exuberant greetings. There’s something so basically human about wishing a fellow soul ‘good day’ – something that Ebenezer Scrooge also realised after his night of realisations. The scene where he throws open his window and shouts, ‘Good morning!’ at a little boy down below always stuck with me.
Last November I spent the month in the village of Vrindavan, India, where almost no one passes without greeting ‘Radhe Radhe!’ It was a refreshing nudge out of my usual habit – avoiding eye contact, and minding my own business. Though sometimes in the West we guard our personal space, putting in ear phones and practising staring into middle distance, in India, and many other countries, this barrier doesn’t exist. I hope that more and more of us will remember what a wonderful difference it makes to simply look someone in the eye and say ‘good morning’. For now, I’m practising, even if it meant scaring the local teenage postman this morning. He looked back at me, quite bewildered as I continued walking past. Ah well.