Warning: People are Really Friendly Here!

One thing that will take time for any new San Franciscan to get used to is that people here are actually, earnestly and genuinely nice. No, I’m serious. Most people are super incredibly friendly.

It’s really weird and a highly unsettling.

Strangers help nurse drink beer

Strangers help nurse drink beer

People you don’t know, people that you’ve never even seen before, and that seemingly have nothing to gain by an interaction, will make eye contact with you on the street! And it’s not the “what the hell are you looking at?” normal kind of inadvertent subway eye contact that you’d expect, it’s the unnatural “hey, how are you?” kind.  Even more bizarre, often this seemingly friendly eye contact will be accompanied by a nod or (shudder) event a smile!?!?

And on not-so-rare occasions, let’s call it half-the-time, this eye contact/nod/smile triumvirate will be followed by a friendly “hello.” An actual greeting from an actual stranger!

While I have now grown accustom (albeit not accepting) of this odd regional custom, the first few times it happened I almost threw my neck out looking for who this unknown person might be addressing. When I realized they were speaking to me my heart quickened as I was certain they were hoping to distract me while their cohorts further down the street or around the corner jumped me or demanded money. As to be expected, I would divert my eyes, quicken my pace and approach corners and alleys cautiously, always to be greeted by either nothing, or yes…even another pleasantly smiling and nodding person.

I don’t mean to frightened or discourage you from moving to this town. It does have much to offer (i.e. the coffee is pretty good), I do want to prepare you for what you might experience. Following are only  a few of the real-life examples of what my wife and I experienced:

  • Upon arriving in San Francisco a random passerby took the time (unasked) to help carry our baggage up three flights of stairs. They did not try and steal anything. They did not demand (or even accept) a tip.
  • My wife had a 10-minute discussion with a stranger in the deli about different brands of soy milk.
  • While sitting by the water one day, three different passersby asked a friend and I how we were doing. Neither of us knew the people.
  • At the supermarket (a massive Safeway mind you, not a small “mom and pop” establishment) the cashier introduced herself to us, welcomed us to the neighborhood, called over the manager and two baggers who all eagerly met us.
  • At a local store, a clerk voluntarily reduced the price of a desk after we had already agreed to purchase it at a higher price.

These are not isolated incidents. We have heard similar stories from dozens of other San Franciscans.

And if you’re not from New York and think that I’m just being cynical, and that people in your small town in New Hampshire say hi to each other too, remember that San Francisco is ostensibly a city. You know, with big buildings and a public transportation system and gangs and stuff.

People are friendly here. Just another reason that San Francisco is Weird.

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About adamahata

On February 5, 2008, after 15 amazing years in New York City, I got married, changed careers, and moved out to San Francisco. All within a three-week period, and with very little preparation. This blog is for those of you who follow me out to San Francisco (or have been here for a while and are still trying to figure this place out). You're not in Kansas anymore Dorothy.
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8 Responses to Warning: People are Really Friendly Here!

  1. zee says:

    excuse me, new yorkers are nice. today a guy i met at the can & bottle deposit machines voluntarily gave me a stray can from his enormous cart of bottles.

  2. Nicky says:

    When I helped a woman with her bags in the Subway here in New York, she declined at first thinking I was going to steal her bags.. So, I smiled and said, “no, I just think it’ll be easier for me to bring them up than it is for you.” So, she let me…but then stood there agog for about 5 minutes. hahaha!

    Ah yes, the people in New York certainly think I’m very, very weird. I am a native San Franciscan.

    It must be much easier being in San Francisco as a New Yorker, than the reverse, I imagine..

    • adamahata says:

      Actually, I believe that it’s easier to be insane in the land of the sane vs. sane in the land of the insane (or weird).

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  5. peggyluwho says:

    You should stop by Oakland some time. The other day, a fellow bicyclist rang his bell at me . . just to say ‘hi’. He might have even been flirting.

    Of course, last month someone also spit on me.

    So, you see, our friendliness is tempered in the East Bay.

  6. Oliver Young says:

    Adam, as a native midwesterner I have to step in here. It’s actually the case that ANY city off the east coast has people this friendly. Even big ones like Chicago, Dallas, Denver, St. Louis, and my hometown of Detroit. When I moved to Boston it took me a while to get used to how unfriendly and angry everyone was — I think there is just something about the northeast corridor that makes people mad.

    Alternatively it might be the case that you are just super attractive in this city and most of these people are hitting on you. You are quite the handsome man, and well dressed to boot.

    • adamahata says:

      Oliver, while I appreciate your flattery, I just can’t believe it’s my amazing good looks and incredibly well toned sense of style that elicits friendliness for the local denizens. I have heard similar stories from dozens of others, both full-time San Franciscans and guests. And while I do agree with you that the northeast happens to have a particularly grumpiness about it, and many other cities has friendlier people – I think there is something particularly weird about the extent of the graciousness of people in San Francisco.

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