Why won’t you talk to us?
Mitch plonked himself down in a chair.
“Bunch of ignorant gits not one of them said hello” he said in disgust.
Well actually the language was a bit stronger than that and enunciated with an Australian twang.
We’d been having ongoing discussions for some weeks about how many of the younger travellers we encountered ignored us when we smiled, waved or actually had the audacity to say hello in passing. The usual response was either:-
- Look anywhere in order not to acknowledge our presence and walk by as if we did not exist.
- Stick their noses in the air as if we had deeply offended them and stalk off.
- Give a weak smile and scuttle off as if they were scared that we would mug them.
After any one of the above I was sorely tempted to execute a rugby tackle on them and ask what the problem was.
We had been travelling in some of South America’s more remote areas for a few months and often we stayed in places where it was just us and the locals. Backpackers/tourists were noticeable by their absence and when one happened upon a fellow traveller it was like a face book deprived desperado finding a working computer. The opportunity to talk in English, albeit it be pidgin, share knowledge, good and bad experiences and of course a beer or three was not something to be passed up lightly. Part of the travelling experience is about meeting people, being sociable and making new friends and we have met and made some amazing friends. So we were confused and had had an ongoing debate throughout our journey as to why people were reacting in this way. We came up with several theories:-
– We look don’t look very smart (clothes wise not IQ) as we dress down to look like small pickings to a would be robber. Shabby attire, no jewellery, cheap luggage can help in the quest not look like a lucrative target. Maybe we look too shabby to the new type of traveller that demands hot water, wifi, swimming pool, ensuite bathroom, TV, fridge in room and 101 electrical sockets to recharge the numerous electrical gadgets they carry around.
– We’re too old and obviously as an OAP have nothing of value to contribute to a conversation. Now, if I met someone my mother’s age I’d be milking them for information on cheap eats, hotels, local haunts, good places to visit etc. People who have been travelling for years are full of useful and interesting information which can enrich one’s own experience.
– If we Skype them or wrote to them on face book we’d have more success at interacting. They obviously don’t have the skills to socialise face to face.
– They’re scared that we may bore them with our many travel tales – which I can relate to. Mitch has a plethora of stories which are hilarious unless you are me and have heard them for the 10th time.
To test our theories we carried out an ongoing experiment on our travels to ascertain if the social skills of the modern day younger tourist are indeed limited or to see if we’re just getting paranoid in our dotage. Smiling, nodding waving or all three at the same time when we spotted a fellow traveller. Standing in their walking pathway if the first three tactics failed and repeating the gestures. Commenting on the weather or making inane comments that should elicit a smile or response. Nothing seemed to work.
“I walked into the room smiled and not one person responded” Mitch continued obviously baffled that no one had reacted to his laidback sociable Aussie nature.
The room in question had tea and coffee gratis, a TV and computers, free wifi and a large number of people at any one time utilising the facilities. Having availed ourselves of the hot beverages whilst waiting to hear if our flight over the nazca lines was on or not, we were buzzing from vast amounts of caffeine drunk as the hours passed. Sitting in the roof top space making the most of the sun and the view we had been keeping tabs on what was happening (or not) in the social room downstairs. Several people had been watching TV for hours – no one was talking. Two people were on the computers and another two on their laptops – no chit chat there either! A couple of people were reading travel guides – again no social interaction. There was a constant stream of people were making hot drinks in silence. At any one point there must have been at least 10 people in the room and no conversation. So the chances of Mitch getting any response to his friendly overture was doubtful. I tried out another theory on him.
“Maybe we should try the direct approach and say hello, how are you, where are you from you know personalise it a little more”.
Mitch looked doubtful but fuelled by 15 cups of coffee propelled himself out of the chair and headed back downstairs. Three minutes later he was back “I bounded in, beamed said hello to everyone and asked if how they were” he said.
“And?” I replied.
“Zip” he said.
We are still working on new theories.