Monday, November 3, 2014

"Talking to strangers in Gainesville for 30 minutes on a bus"

There's a video going viral with a woman walking around Manhattan for ten hours that reports on the male reactions she gets as she passes. All of them are perceived as harassment, although I'd say that some are simply rude,  not more than that- which is not the same thing  while a few such as wishing her good morning or walking  closely saying hello are borderline polite. I guess the reasoning is that a stranger shouldn't try to start a conversation if she doesn't want to be engaged and don't look for eye contact in New York unless you have bad intentions. You don't walk closely to someone, compliment their attire and truth be told most, but not all of the scenes had an obvious underlining context. I thought of this video as I boarded the bus today. A middle aged man, slightly deaf and supplementing himself with sign language  was engaging every single person that boarded the bus. "Good morning", "Are you having a good day?" "How was your Halloween?"- some of his lines felt like they came out of a conversations book for people learning English. "How are you, Batman?"- he said to a man wearing the superhero shirt. Some people didn't want to be engaged or just didn't noticed that he was talking to them listening to music in their headphones, but he didn't get discouraged. He wanted to talk about the weather (it was sunny but we had a cold front), the weekend, the plans, he was asking about their names and where everybody lived. "How's the family?" he queried  a young man he just met and we heard all about his relatives in Ohio and how he's torn between transferring to a college in Central Florida and an University in Texas. Most people, although a little puzzled at first to hear all those questions from a stranger, moved a conversation along. Some had a hard time understanding him but he was patient yet persistent. And he pointed to his ears showing us which one is bad and which one was better. And I couldn't help thinking, that if we were in New York, LA, or one of those other high-pate high-population, don't-look-at-me places he would have been pepper sprayed by someone who felt he was too close, to loud or too persistent. I guess we do have a different mentality here in North Central Florida. We nod, we say hi to people we've never met. We comment on people's wardrobe, not in a rude, objectifying way, but if there's something funny or unusual or eyecatching about someone's attire we say it- respectfully but we do. I always like to tell the story of how my mom, her first week in Florida, had an encounter with a few young girls that stopped to compliment her dress. She turned to me thinking it was her English or something she didn't get, because who does a thing like that. I always start a conversation on buses, bunches, in waiting lines and the more someone's detached and uncomfortable, the bigger the challenge to turn the mood around. Sex (or objectifying anyone) is the last thing on my mind and I guess people don't see it like that because that's not what I put out there. I guess it's a matter of perspective- where you live, what you're used to and how you react to  people. I choose not to be constantly suspicious of everyone's anterior motives and be constantly offended, locked and mentally distant in my own little zone. Yes, some people are stupid, but it's not good to only see or expect the worse from everyone. Besides, 10 hours of walking is what? Two months of everyday commuting's worth in real life? I'd say I'm surprised there isn't much more material for a city this big  

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