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Are You Talkin’ To Me?

"Hey lady!"

"Me? Hello!"

"Do you like bubble baths?"

"Yeah?"

"Well if you ever wanna take someone home for a bubble bath, I like candles! And rose petals!"

It was strange being in America, the place where strangers talk to you on the street. In our two weeks we encountered so many people who were nice, helpful or just plain chatty for no good reason at all. At first we'd almost jump a foot in the air everytime someone spoke, or glared with great suspicion. What do you want? Why are you talking to me? What are you trying to sell? I don't have any money! Take him, he's older!

You don't seem to get as much random interaction in Britain. If you're out for a walk it's rare to even make eye contact with a stranger, let alone score a nod or smile. This used to baffle me, but as soon as my first Scottish winter came I noticed I'd become more insular, preferring to brood beneath my beanie. I didn't realise how much so until we were at the Grand Canyon and a tall man suddenly approached us. I gripped my camera extra tight and decided I was prepared to knee him in the goolies if necessary.

"Hello! Would you like me to take a photo of the happy couple together?"

"What? Ohh! Sure. Thanks very much!"

After Vegas we headed back to San Francisco for a week. We got the BART into town then Gareth had the fantastic idea of walking ten blocks uphill to our hotel. I was lucky enough to have wheeled luggage but he had an ancient suitcase that weighed a tonne – those kilts are heavy bastards. After a few blocks I could see his arms shaking and face turning beetroot. As we waited at an intersection I wondered whether or not three days of marriage was long enough for me to spew forth my first I Told You So, and did I really want to establish myself as a nagging bint so early in the game? Cars whizzed by in all directions and it dawned on us there were no pedestrian lights and we didn't know when to cross the street.

"Well!" I sniffed, "Isn't this just a DANDY honeymoon?"

Just as the veins began to bulge on Gareth's forearms, a woman whizzed past on rollerblades and sang out in bemused tones, "Pedestrians have right of way in California, guys! You can cross now!"

It was a bit of a culture shock to hear people speak to you out of the blue. All week strangers appeared to help when we looked lost, offered to take photos or just struck up conversations about the weather.

On our last day in San Francisco, after walking past the Bubble Bath Guy, a lady with a wee baby and a bottle of OJ stopped me outside the hotel, pointing at my shopping bags.

"Hey! That looks like an Old Navy bag. There's Old Navy here?"

"Oh yeah, it's just a few blocks that way."

"That is good news! Do you like Old Navy? What you got there?"

I showed her my bargain nightwear.

"Well, damn! I love Old Navy. I'm gonna go there right now. Thank YOU!"

What is in the water over there, you Americans? Maybe it was just the newlywed glow or all the excess glucose I'd consumed, but all that unexpected human interaction felt warmer than the California sunshine.

MEGA GULL
Gull With Fresh Droppings
One in a series of approximately 457 gull photos Gareth took at Fisherman's Wharf.

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About Shauna Reid

Ahoy there! I’m an author, copywriter and old school blogger. I love telling stories about life and helping my clients to tell theirs. Find out more about me and how we can work together.


35 thoughts on “Are You Talkin’ To Me?

  1. We’re friendly AND armed…or perhaps because of it.

    Do you have any idea how close Tacoma is to San Francisco? a scant 16 hours by car.

    less…than…a…day….

    ah well…

  2. I wouldn’t take any notice of the humorless bastards who mailed you. Running off to Vegas to get married sounds like a great idea to me!

  3. Yes, Americans can be very outgoing and friendly. Even in New York City you will find helpful, friendly people. Glad you had a fun holiday in the American West!

  4. As an expat kiwi in the Bay Area, this post just makes me want to go: see, Americans here are nice, that’s how I can survive living in America, thank you very much all you Kiwi and Aussie friends who ask me how on earth I can stand it.

  5. Hi Shauna – I am glad you reminded me of the Scottish winter. There is a chance I will be over there again myself next year for work and, although I really can’t wait and hope it comes off, I am a bit hesitant of the Great Dark. ;D

  6. Ha ha ha that’s funny, I went on vacation recently and also bought nightwear at Old Navy. Flannel jammie bottoms for $3.97 CDN… can’t go wrong with that!!

  7. >Gareth had the fantastic idea of walking ten blocks uphill to our hotel.

    Snort! You got that wifey sarcasm down pat, girl.

  8. Love Oz for exactly the comments you made: the random cheeriness and unexpected witty comment.

    Only remember sombre, bitchy people from my last trip home (Holland) and being happy that my Oz boyfriend only noticed the beautiful buildings and quaint culture…

  9. In Rhode Island people only know how to exercise their middle finger as they speed by you at 95 miles an hour rather than say hello or give directions…but, yes the rest of the country is very pleasant!!

  10. Jeepers. Married 15 minutes and already doubting him. Talk about Fickle. However its a cack. As usual hilarious. Tell the people who question you to start their own bleeding blog. BTW – I am in Hong Kong and if someone says hello. They want something.

  11. Thanks Shauny. You made my day, yet again. Today I am having a SHIT day, and now everything seems just a little bit more bearable. Thanks for reminding us all that people, as a general rule, are cool…

  12. That walk seemed like a good idea at the time…doh! At least it burnt up some of the calories from Vegas.

  13. I am glad you met nice people on your trip. I am from a semi small town in Ohio and when I live in Ireland for a few months I found that Galway was like my town, people are pretty private and don’t offer a lot of help. But when I lived in Bray and Dublin I found that people were always near by to offer a helping hand! I agree with an earlier post NYC is a great place (a bit intimidating) but amazingly friendly. And San Fran is one of my favorites. I recommend seeing the Outer Banks of North Carolina…unless you hate beaches and I recommend August or September because the water is warm then!

  14. That’s so funny.. it’s very cool to hear an outsider’s perspective of America.. I’m glad you had a good time and that people were friendly to you.

  15. I remember being freaked out as a Scottish teenager when I walked in to a Hallmark store in LA and a woman popped up from behind a display and asked if she could help me. I thought they were keeping an eye on me in case I was a shoplifter!

    Now I’ve lived here (California) a few years, I frighten Brittish shopkeepers by walking right up to them and saying “Hi, I’m trying to find…do you have that here?” they keep trying to figure out if they’re supposed to know who I am.

    I also remember aussies as very friendly, there were a lot of workmen in Sydney who admired my sisters crazy earrings and then asked her to flash them!

  16. I’m a Brit who has lived in the US for 19 years. Texas was friendly. California was pretty friendly. Now I live in Michigan. NOT friendly! It astounds me just how grumpy people are here. Which, in turn, makes me grumpy! Glad you got to go to SF – I miss it there!

  17. I once went to NYC and didn’t beleieve all this scary new york stuff.
    Then was on a subway station just me and the biggest black man I have ever seen.

    He ambled over and asked if I was lost, which i was, and prceeded to give me in great detail the best, quickest and cheapest way to get where I was going.

    If there is one thing a New Yorker loves it is showing off about how much of a New Yorker they are.

    lovely.

    be good.

    pol x

  18. Wait until you go back to Oz. I almost fall over every time a checkout chick smiles and talks to me and asks me how my day’s going and whether I got any bargains and what am I doing for the rest of the afternoon etc. I have to seriously bite my tongue so that I don’t say in a really rude voice DO I KNOW YOU? I swear, nothing like living in the UK to have all the friendly social norms stamped out of your system!

  19. Yeah, we’re a friendly bunch of morons.

    Try hanging out it the midwest. They are just FROTHING with chit chat here.

  20. Shauny-

    You need to come the South for some down home southern hospitality.

    I went to New York city one time, and a couple of days I thought I was invisible. No one would talk to me there.

    Down here in Georgia. Everyone will talk to you. Funny to know that we were started by a large lot of Irish/Scottish transplants a few hundred years ago.

    If you get back, come see us!

  21. Great cultural post Shauny.

    Even if you turned off your commentaries virtual readers would come to you as you have a knack for being that tomboy sister, a girl next door who is not afraid to laugh at herself and others …

    I always remember what our local parish priest told me whenever certain communist characters made me really loose my temper. – Those who make you angry control you. Do not let freaks who hide behind anonymity control you. Indeed, thick skin is the answer as wherever one seems to go these days we uncover Hitler’s little helpers ready to spray the venom …

    You are the most successful chick in the blogosphere enjoy!

  22. People are weirdly friendly here in good ol’ Missouri. And it’s made even weirder by the slight twang almost everyone speaks with. I get talked to a lot, and as you now know, it’s weird, but in a heartwarming way. Kind of like the Muppets.

  23. That’s a very picturesque gull, though not that different from the ones you can see, um, all over Edinburgh.

    Rosemary Grace, you made me laugh. That culture shock cuts both ways, though. I lived in France for a year. When I came back to Scotland, the first time I went round to the shops I announced myself with a cheery “Bonjour madame” to the lady behind the counter…

    What a doughnut. Must have been on autopilot!

  24. Canucks are probably about as friendly, but lower-key so you might not know it. Except in Montreal they aren’t. Kind of a cold city that way, not that that stops me from loving it.

  25. Back in sydney now (yawn) your blog is named in the Sydney morning Herald Icon section re yr win at the bloggies. Fame is spreading fast killer.

  26. Americans are perhaps friendly in accordance to the climate. The sunnier the climate, the friendlier the natives. The North East is much colder in all sorts of ways. We don’t have time to saunter about and engage in pleasantries. It’s too cold. Must. get. to. next. destination.

  27. I’ll have to give San Fran a try. I live in New York, and I guess a country’s-worth of mileage between the two makes all the difference. You’re lucky to get eye contact from anyone around here. On the other hand, it’s generally a lot colder here, so it’s probably like our winter in Scotland.

  28. Awww, tell Sarah that I live in Michigan and I’M friendly, as are many of the people I know. Maybe she’s in the wrong part of the state!

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