Many people consider San Francisco to be one of the friendlier major cities. Before we consider whether that’s the case, lets make sure we are on the same page. I am not talking about common courtesy, such as holding doors, driving manners, etc… I will admit that most of us are pretty good about those most of the time. I am also not talking about alcohol induced friendliness where a couple of drinks make someone who hardly ever talks to you become your best friend and tell your their life story, leaving no stone unturned in their emotional castle, which is in desperate need of major renovation. I am also not talking about the situations where we are forced to be friendly – i.e. between co-workers, roommates, etc…, and in the wonderful treatment we can from the people in the service and retail industries.
I am talking about the most basic and the most pure form of friendliness between strangers that has no agenda and no defined goal – I am talking about acknowledgement of other humans in your peripheral vision, which appears to be an instinctive reflex among humans and animals alike. San Francisco’s residents appear to have mastered suppressing this instinct, especially women. Sunglasses and headphones are in part to blame for this deliberate disregard of the surroundings, but there must be other reason for the energy and the attitude that is created as a result. I have taken bus and metro rides in a number of major cities in the world, and I find so far that San Francisco is the only place where you can sit next to someone at a bus and they won’t even turn their head in your direction briefly to acknowledge your presence, like they would naturally do in other places. Here, in SF – the contrary usually occurs. The person next to you, especially if it’s a woman, will eagerly turn the other way toward the window as soon as you sit down next to him/her.
Some women claim that the reason they do that is because they don’t want to be hit on by guys. I don’t buy this explanation because I know how passive white collar guys are in San Francisco, when it comes to hitting on women while being sober, so the risk of a male passenger trying to charm a woman on a bus is extremely low, especially given the fact that the women that use our public transportation look like ice queens, whose ice only mildly defrosts on Thursday and Friday commute home from work.
Some consider Paris and the French people in general to be uppity and pretentious, but on at least this level of most basic friendliness between strangers in public, I believe they are amateurs, compared to us, when it comes to acting stuck up and unapproachable.