Friday, May 15, 2009

Eye contact

A reminiscence from my exile in Utah, where i was faculty at Brigham young University for a few years—it’s not really about Mormonism, but it might be of interest anyway:

When we moved to Utah, we were convinced that everyone around us was projecting unfriendliness, ’cause they never made eye contact and only rarely said “hi” as they passed us in hallways and such. As it turned out, we’re simply from cultural backgrounds where the eye contact and passing “hi” is done later in the approach/pass than it is along the Wasatch Front. (We’re both very, very much from the eastern United States, and i have a bit of Southern thrown in for good measure.)

This meant that the Utahns around us would try for eye contact, not get it, presume that we weren’t interested in interaction (and possibly think we were terribly unfriendly, themselves), and not be trying for eye contact by the time we tried for eye contact (only to not get any, and presume they weren’t interested in interaction).

Once we realized what was going on (took a good six months, maybe longer), Utahns seemed a lot friendlier to us. (We may have seemed a lot friendlier to Utahns, too, but i’d already developed a rep as a hard teacher, so it may not have helped for me. ☺)

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