So I’m in line at a cafe in Studio City and the old guy standing behind says to me, ‘You look cute. I love your outfit – it’s really funky.’ (I’m assuming he means this in the English sense, Modern and stylish in an unconventional or striking way, rather than the American, Having a strong, offensive, unwashed odour.) In any case, my immediate thought is, ‘Ugh, get the fuck away from me, you geriatric, perverted freak.’
And then I remember. This is what Californians do: they are friendly and nice, with a demeanour as sunny as their climate, and I must override my natural inclination to assume that pleasant overtures from strangers must signal a conman, rapist or psychopath. I’ve got to ditch my Londoner’s tendency to treat everyone with squinty-eyed suspicion until I’ve met them 47 times. Because here people just, y’know, chat. To strangers. To anybody.
In queues, lifts, shops – people of every age, race and background will have frank and open conversations with whoever happens to be standing next to them at the time. I admit it’s the aspect of American culture I find hardest to deal with, since I’ve been in London long enough to have it ingrained into my soul that any stranger who talks to you on the Tube is either mad or foreign – probably both – and generally we Londoners like to extend this assessment to all public places.
But I appreciate that this is my shortcoming, and being genial and courteous is obviously A Good Thing. Spread a little happiness, and all that.
So I’ve tried, I really have. And I think these efforts have paid off. After a year of living in Los Angeles, my standard reaction to someone starting a conversation had progressed from a pained grin, accompanied by a huhuhuh-please-leave-me-alone false laugh, to (in response to a request that I have a good day now) a cheery, ‘You too!!’
Which is a definite improvement, no?