Being Friendly

Texans (folks who live where I came from) are definitely friendly. "Hi, you all," one hears everywhere. All the time. If you've purchased even some modest item, you hear, "You all -- or Y'all -- come back soon!" You might be tempted to question the sincerity of those friendly greetings, ubiquitous and repetitive as they are. But don't breathe such a doubt there -- that talk is ingrained in the landscape, as much as 10 gallon hats and barbecue.

I've been gone from Texas for many years, and I've done what I can to lose the drawl, but the "you all" greeting is embedded in me from childhood. It's useful. It means the same, but is easier than "all of you." I don't say "you all" to a person singular, only (as is right) to plurals. (Actually, when I'm in Texas on a visit, the accent invariably creeps back in, too.)

Now I live in New York, and the world knows that New Yorkers are in a hurry and not friendly. If you've squeezed a "Thank you" from some Manhattan sales clerk, you consider it a good day and move on. You'd certainly be blown over if she requested you to come back soon.

But the question of friendliness and courtesy merit a close look. Lately, for example, I've been using a walker, and residents in my apartment building, with two heavy downstairs doors, invariably step in to open one or both doors, easing my way in or out. Yesterday, a young man even stopped on the sidewalk and asked if he could help me with the doors. Not one to refuse the offer, I smiled and once inside said, "Thanks, you're a good man."

He smiled in return. "I try to be," he countered.

See? He's a friendly New Yorker!

Maybe New Yorkers have gotten a bad rap. In fact, the folks in my building, not 40 stories, but a more humane 10, are pretty friendly. In the hallway or elevator, neighbors say, "Good morning," or "Have a good day."

Beyond geographical differences, I hold the belief that people are either born friendly or they're not. I've never witnessed the birth of a child, but I bet there are some who emerge from their mamas and, once breathing, give a smile and are ready to befriend the world. Lucky them.

I might like to have been one of those born friendly, but no sense kidding myself, I wasn't. And that hasn't greatly changed. All the same, I've made some good friends, which leads me to believe that one can have friends without being especially friendly.

There is a friend of mine who is certainly friendly, always with a smile. He recently made a surprise confession: He more or less manufactures that look and he's tired of it and has now gotten to regret it. It turns out that his friendly smile does belong to a friendly guy, but he seems to feel odd about it. Leads me to think one might be cautious of those who never frown.

And I remember a couple in my high school class, the cutest boy and the cutest girl, the friendliest and most popular kids. They married, had children and later divorced. I see them occasionally, and each one is still friendly. But it seems that for them popularity and friendliness didn't produce long-lasting happiness.

I'm left hoping that I'll get by not known for friendliness but possibly for friendship.

Stanley Ely writes about friends and friendship in his new memoir, "Life Up Close," in paperback and ebook.