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.
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.