A Question of Etiquette

I could start with an aside to the effect that I used to try not to post more than once a day, but clearly that standard has fallen by the wayside…

Have you ever been in a situation where, as part of your daily routine, maybe you run into the same stranger repeatedly? And eventually, just because you’re both human beings and have a memory, you think it might be polite to exchange some minor pleasantry; perhaps nothing beyond a “Hey, how’s it going?” or “How ’bout this weather?” or what have you…

You don’t even bother to find out this person’s name, or reveal yours, but because you always see them in the same place at the same time of day every day, you probably say something.

OK, so I have one of these weird little “relationships” that I need some advice on… It’s a question of what the rules are for a such a non-association, and what a person is obligated to do or say if such an association is established.

When I walk to work in the morning, I cross the corner of Jackson and Irving. It’s a lighted intersection that a lot of kids on their way to Lincoln Elementary walk by in the morning as well. Hence, there is a crossing guard. I’m pretty sure the crossing guard is a woman. It’s hard for me to say for certain, because this person wears a large, heavy, blaze orange hunting jacket with a hood and ski mask every day. No matter what the temperature is. When it was 45 degrees out they were dressed the same way.

For quite a long time, I just ignored the crossing guard, the kids, etc., never said boo to anybody and just made my way to campus. A big reason for that is that the crossing guard was never on the same corner as me. Just luck, I suppose. One day early in December (I think it was the last week of classes), there she was (I’m gonna say she, cuz I’m pretty sure), standing the same place I always do.

Well, I’ve seen this person a million times, right? Just never on the same corner. So one this day in December I said “good morning,” and through her ski mask and hood she mumbled something about the college kids being gone, or when they’d be done, or something like that. I had to ask her to repeat what she said 4 or 5 or 8 times or something, because I couldn’t understand her. By then, the light changed, I said “have a good day,” and carried on.

And I don’t think I really saw the crossing guard the rest of the time leading up to the holidays..(?) But anyway, the elementary kids get back to school, and so she’s back on the street every morning, and the way I have this reasoned out is thus: this is a “just-say-hello-only-if-convenient” relationship that I have here, so unless the crossing guard is standing on the same corner as me, or we pass each other while crossing the actual street, I’m not gonna bother saying anything. I don’t know this person well enough to be shouting or pointing across the street.

However, on the mornings that she is on a different corner, I’m a little uncomfortable, because I think she’s over there looking at me. And a couple times I’ve almost said to myself, “just wave or nod or something,” but I really don’t want to, just because of a look. I don’t want to wave or point or shout, because the last thing I wanna do is escalate this into some sort of pseudo-co-worker relationship kind of thing (y’know, when there are people that you work with, technically speaking, but you don’t really “work WITH” them, but because you know their names and you’re in the same place 8 hours a day, you have to chit-chat about something when you run into them? I hate that.) So now if she’s not standing there on the same corner as me, I’m sort of anxiously just looking back and forth at the traffic, like I’m watching for a hole that’ll let me pass before the light turns green.

This morning was great, because I was on the phone with Mom the whole time I was at the corner, and being on the phone is a great excuse for not saying anything. I was thinkin, “sweet, end of another week, I don’t have to cross this street for 3 days.” Well of course, today would be a day where I end up taking a really late lunch, and I was crossing when school is LETTING OUT. Dammit.

So I’m on my way back to work, right? And she was there with a couple kids ready to come the other direction, and like I said, my rules that I decided on were
1) say hello if on the same corner
2) say hello if passing while crossing

and so I said, “Hi, how’s it going?” as we crossed, and I get this really terse sort of nod from behind sunglasses. So what did I do? She’s upset that I’m not shouting across the street? Who does that? Do I need to be doing that?

Then I got back to my desk and thought, “wait a second– what if it’s not even the same crossing guard in the afternoon? Sure, she was wearing the same orange jacket, but what if that’s like, standard-issue or something?” Anyway, that doesn’t seem very likely.

I dunno, though, I might start taking a different route to work or something, so I don’t have to say hello. If I walk a block further north up Division to Lincoln Ave, that would be fine, too; that’s the way I go when I ride my bike. Maybe I could start riding my bike in the winter, too…

So I’m not sure what to do. If you have any advice, feel free to comment it. Otherwise, have a good weekend. I’m not likely to return until Sunday…

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