“It’s just a surface friendliness,” she said. We had been talking about my experience yesterday in downtown Atlanta. I was describing how nice everyone was, from the people who worked in the shops and restaurants to the security guards who helped me navigate, and find, accessible entrances. I spoke with two police officers who both willingly stopped to give me directions and, here’s something wonderful, suggested a more accessible route for me to follow. Everyone was simply nice. There I was being different in the way that I was different in a place where I’d never been my kind of difference before. That may be a difficult sentence to follow, but it’s the way of my life. The more often I am out, the more frequent my difference, which I can’t hid, is on display, the less interesting it becomes, the less noticeable I am, the more I am able to blend in. But I’ve never been different here before and, people were nice, didn’t stare, and not one person did anything mean.
My friend, who had lived in the south for several years, said that she wasn’t surprised. She said there was still an air of gentility and good manners in the south but to beware, “It’s just a surface friendliness.” Well, she’s the expert, but it all seemed pretty genuine to me.
But, what if she’s right?
What if it’s just a surface, inch deep, friendliness?
You know what?
I don’t care.
I’ll take it. In fact, that’s really all I want. I don’t need anything more than that, I don’t ask for anything more than that, I’m happy if that’s all that’s on offer. I’d be thrilled if all over the world people woke up and decided that they’d put on their shallow friendliness and wear it all day while they were out. I think that if we did that, everyone would have a much nicer, much kinder and much more welcoming day. I say that because I had a much nicer, kinder and welcoming day yesterday.
Some of the people I dealt with might have had hostile attitudes to fat people, or disabled people, or two men hanging with each other, but you’d never know it. Their surface friendliness was just deep enough that it allowed them to treat us with respect tinged with a bit of warmth. Maybe when we turned our backs or left the store, or crossed the street, they said or did something unkind. I hope not, but if that did I’m thankful they waited until I was gone. I’m thankful that they recognized that what they were going to say or do would be hurtful and decided to wait on being mean until I was well away.
But maybe none of that happened, maybe they were just nice, surface nice, and maybe after marinating in surface nice, it’s got a little deeper.
Like the security guard, a young woman, who I asked about accessible routing on the weekend, which is different because the elevators in the two access points were closed on weekends. When I asked her how I would manage to get where I was going with the elevators both closed down. She thought for a second and said, “That’s really not fair is it, you should have access all the time. Give me a couple minutes to go talk to my supervisor.” We waited, sipping on iced tea, when in Atlanta … Then she came back and she and the supervisor had worked out a solution, not just for me, but for anyone in the future who would need access.
I thanked her.
“Things have got to be fair,” she said, “That’s the least we should all expect.”
Things like that happened all day!
All freaking day!
Atlanta I don’t know if you’ve got the gentility and good manners facade down to a science, but even if that’s all it is, it’s enough for someone like me.