You don't get those "good mornings" here in America.
Let's say you're in Paris and you go to the neighborhood bakery for your breakfast bread and croissants. If there's a line there, the person you get behind will wish you a "bonjour," and expect a "bonjour" from you.
You'll also get a "bonjour" from the salesperson and another one from the cashier. And anyone who works there is likely to say "bonjour" to you as you leave. When you walk down the street with your baked goods, complete strangers will say "bonjour" to you, and you'll return the greeting.
What a cheery way to start the day: before eating breakfast or arriving at work, dozens of people have wished the typical Parisian a "good morning."
Since I've been back home, I've kept up the practice of walking a lot. And while walking, I've tried giving other walkers smiles and greetings just as I did in France. The results haven't been all that good. Some people look right at me, but say nothing. Then there are those who look at the ground, pretending they haven't heard me. But what's really disturbing is that many people seem to think that my wishing them a "good morning" means I'm either crazy, dangerous or intruding on "their space."
In old movies, people wished each other "good morning" or "hello" whenever they saw each other walking. Men even tipped their hats to women. I know most men don't wear hats anymore, but until I saw the contrast between France and here, I hadn't realized that "good morning" had gone out of style, too.
I still try anyway, and I've become aware of a weird but definite "good morning etiquette." If I say, "good morning" to a woman who's alone and walking towards me, there's a good chance she won't respond. I get the impression that many women think that if they smile and return the greeting of a man, they might be inadvertently encouraging him to pursue the relationship beyond the "good morning" stage to something unwanted. If the woman does return my greeting and smile, she often quickens her pace as she walks away from me. That's to make sure that I get the message that ours is just a "good morning" relationship, and it's not going to go any further.
When coming across another guy, I can't just smile at him. He almost definitely won't smile back. If I say "good morning," he might respond. Nodding at each other silently is a compromise position that seems generally acceptable among guys. A silent nod might be very manly, but it seems awfully serious for the morning.
If a woman is walking with a guy, and they're heading towards me, I have to use a completely different approach. No matter how tempted I am to smile at her, instead, I look at the guy. Then I say "good morning" to him. Usually, he'll "good morning" me back, and only after he's done so, will she feel it's OK to say "good morning" to me. So I might eventually get a pleasant greeting from the woman, but I'll have to go through the charade of "I'm really just saying hello to the guy you're with" first.
Doesn't it seem crazy to need to go through all these gyrations and strategies just to say "good morning"? So why do so many people not believe that "good morning" just means "good morning"?
I guess it's because of the — somewhat justified — paranoid times we live in. Adults don't only teach children not to talk to strangers, but now we apparently teach that admonition to ourselves, too. Nobody wants to be accosted by some wacko, and since you can never be sure who's a safe person, many people don't take the chance of talking to anybody they don't know. I completely understand that. But I still feel it's sad that we've gotten to this point.
I remember how all those strangers in Paris greeting me each morning put a smile on my face. And maybe my greeting them made them a little happier, too. If you're not comfortable smiling back at every stranger who smiles at you, don't. But maybe you could try it every once in a while. The French know what they're doing when it comes to things like bread and cheese. Maybe they know what they're doing when it comes to "good morning," too.
Lloyd Garver writes a weekly column for SportsLine.com. He has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover.
By Lloyd Garver