You’re running alone around a lake. You haven’t seen anyone else on the path for several minutes. Then up ahead, you see a lone walker coming your way. What do you do? Do you greet her? Ignore her? Make small talk?

I grew up in New York. I remember how jarring it was when I first started college in the Midwest and complete strangers would greet me on campus or during a morning run. Who was that? I would think?! But I soon discovered that was just the Midwest way. Now I’m the one who says “Hi” when I go running in Central Park—only to have the locals look at me like I’m an alien.

People outside the city are quick to attribute this to rude New Yorkers (or Londoners, or Singaporeans, etc.). But when you live in a highly populated area, it’s unrealistic to greet every person who goes by. This is a reminder of how our environment shapes our culture.

In the small city where I now live, there’s a pretty established “greeting protocol” on the running path by our house. You’ve got the serious bikers who are usually in a zone and not to be messed with. The marathon trainers might give a nod or wave if their ear buds and running euphoria haven’t fully removed them from this world. And if a group passes, it depends upon how intense their conversation is whether or not I would greet them. But typically, when faced with the situation above—running by a lone walker or runner, I’d most definitely at least say “Good morning.”

But I’m not quite sure what to do with this one woman I often pass. She’s a South Asian woman—perhaps Indian but I’m not sure. She wears a sari and she walks briskly around the lake almost every morning. Whenever we pass each other, she almost always looks down at the pavement and avoids all eye contact. Sometimes I nod or quietly say “morning” but she’s never responded. In a “typical” situation like this, I’d just obnoxiously continue to greet her. But in this case, I’m conscious that making eye contact and talking with her could be an affront to this woman’s personal and religious convictions. It could simply be an uncomfortable situation for her based upon her background and/or her personality. Or it might not be something she’s even conscious of one way or another.

What do you do? Do you usually greet strangers in a situation like this? Do you wait for them to make the first move?


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