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The Daily Dose

Enough with the friendliness

Why the culture of smiling at and saying hello to perfect strangers is evil

Sriram Veera
More drinking, less chatting is the need of the hour

More drinking, less chatting is the need of the hour  •  Matt Cardy/Getty Images

I know I'm going to come across as a rude, mean fellow, but South Africans, can you please stop saying hi and smiling at me when I'm walking on the street? I am not used to getting the nod and the how-are-you-type questions from strangers. In India you walk past each other without a look. Unless the stranger is a pretty person of the opposite sex; in that case, they walk on without giving you a look.
I checked the dictionary as well. It defines "stranger" as "one who is neither a friend or an acquaintance". So what makes you ask me after my well-being? The last time even my father asked about it was in 1986, when Javed Miandad hit a last-ball six to kill a little boy's dream.
Please to stop. Else I will start telling you how bad I am feeling and how screwed-up my life is. Can you handle it?
I will admit, there is one good aspect to the whole thing, though. It allows you to stare at a pretty woman, and if her boyfriend gives you a dirty look, you just nod and say, "How are you?" That, I admit, doesn't happen in India. But the majority, here and there, who say hi are not pretty women. I haven't yet had one of them say hi nicely to me.
Last night in the bar at the team hotel, a woman walks up to me and says, "Do you work for Prahlad Kakkar [an Indian ad film-maker]?" No. "Oh, sorry to trouble you." Not at all. Not often do I get a lovely face come up to me. Laughter. In a sitcom world, it would have ended differently. Here, she just left.
I put this "hi" business to a cabbie. When you are a touring journalist, cabbies are your friends, philosophers and guides to foreign lands. They might not be experts on foreign affairs, political situation, sports, or where to spot lions and lesbians, but we all turn to them for help. Unfortunately my cabbie turned out to be a Zimbabwean: "I don't understand it myself. Just keep walking. Why bother?"
My dear, proud residents of the Rainbow Nation, mend your evil ways. Your virus is spreading to tourists who are visiting your lovely country. A couple of nights ago in a bar, I was sitting alone, sipping my poison and generally feeling good about the world. It was past midnight. Gentle music playing. Me, myself and Captain Morgan. A few South Africans (all men, of course) tried desperately to catch my eye to give me the nod. But I was very clever. I had positioned myself such that I could stare at my drink and at a bare white spot above the fridge. When, suddenly, a Lithuanian plonked himself at the next table and started talking to me. I continued sipping. He then put his hand on my shoulder and shook me. What the?!
For the next 15 minutes I got to know about his wife and his 16-year-old daughter, who is giving her mother trouble. "If any boy acts funny with her, I would kill him." Of course, a perfectly sane, civilised reaction. "Do you know India and Lithuania share something special?" I shuddered to think what it could be. "We are Aryans." I wanted to say, "No, sorry, I come from a Dravidian state in an Aryan country," but I didn't. What if he stabbed me? Or worse, what if he continued talking? I left the pub.
I am worried. Very worried. What if I catch this disease before I leave? What if I go and try this in India. My lovely, friendly democracy-loving Indians would spit at me. Once, in Delhi, one did spit at me. Literally. He was sitting in a bus I was walking past. Splash. It landed just in front of me. I turned around to give him a glare and he went, "Jaa na, bhai. Upar nahi laga na? Kahi ko ghoor raha hai?" (Keep walking. It didn't fall on you, did it? Why are you giving me the stare?) Imagine if I said hi and smiled at him as he walked along. The poor fellow would get so confused, there's no telling what he'd do with the paan in his mouth.

Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo