Why No One Says "Hello" - Adventures in El Salvador


I don't know if it's just me but people don't say hello to each other anymore, or least not as much as they used to. As a teenager, I see it a lot. We pass each other on the street and don't even make eye contact. We see each other in the store and pretend not to know each other. I know that seems silly and my mom always asks me why I don't say hi but it's an unwritten rule. As nothing more than classmates, we don't expect a greeting on either end. 

Contrary to our culture, El Salvadorians are generally very friendly. When the team I was with drove down the streets in our colourful bus, 99% of the people waved. Young kids shouted "Hola!" at us and we greeted them in return. We would wave and smile at people as we drove past them and they would wave and smile back at us, taking a temporary break from whatever they were doing. 

It was hard coming back home, to a place where we are often more interested in the ground than in meeting another's gaze. I was talking to my El Salvadorian friend about this when I'd been back at school for a week or so after the March break. He told me that people who don't return a greeting in El Salvador are too proud to do so.

When I see someone I know but am not necessarily friends with, I don't say hi. In fact, I continue on walking as if they don't exist because I convince myself that there is no possible way they'll remember that we had that two classes together last semester. 

If this insufficient reason is keeping me from saying "hi" to people I know, what's stopping me from greeting a stranger? Is it because I think I'm better than them? Is it because they look "different"? Or am I just too shy or lazy to lift my gaze from my sneakers? 

I don't think I have a good answer to that question that won't sound like an excuse. If you ask yourself those questions and can't come up with a justifiable answer, something needs to change. It's not physically exhausting to make eye contact and smile at someone we pass on the street, so why not give it a try?

It may seem out of place and unnatural at first, but it's a step towards building a stronger and friendlier community. I'm going to give it a try, how about you?