I’ve mentioned before that something that used to surprise me is that when that an American sees a random person walking along the street, they’re quite likely to ask, ‘How are you doing?’ This is someone they don’t know and who they’re unlikely to meet again. Aside from the intrusiveness of the question, do they really want to know?
Foreign visitors are often surprised by American friendliness too. ‘Is it fake?’ they ask. I don’t think so. I think it’s rather like a Tagalog speaker who greets people with ‘Where are you going?’ expecting the answer ‘Over there’; or a Taiwanese speaker who greets you with ‘Have you eaten yet?’, when they have no intention of inviting you for a meal; In China, a greeting might go ‘Old Zhang, are you busy today?’ Rather than ‘Less of the old, please’ the standard response is ‘Very busy’ or ‘Not very busy’. What we’re looking at here are rituals, procedures we all follow without thinking about them.
The ritual for greeting a passer-by is different in the UK. As a rule, we don’t. It’s not that we want to be unsociable but they might be engaged in their own thoughts and we wouldn’t want to intrude. Should something embarrassing happen, like our eyes accidentally meeting, a brief nod or ‘Morning’ enables us both to swiftly pass on.
The British non-intrusion approach and also operates when we’re at an event like a party, even though everyone knows the purpose for being there is to socialize. After fortifying ourselves with a couple of glasses of wine, we might signal our willingness to talk by passing a comment on the weather, or food or something happening in the room at the time. But we haven’t yet mastered the art of going up to strangers, sticking out our hand and saying, ‘Hi I’m Vicki from Pennsylvania.’ I was astonished with the aplomb with which Americans handled that when I came here.
Another similar post on farewells: http://www.vickihollett.com/?p=1406