By PHILIP SUSSER
Jerry: Hey isn’t that George’s father?
Elaine: Oh yeah it is! Should we say hello?
Jerry: I’ve never seen him in Manhattan before; its weird. So out of context.
There are plenty of opportunities in college to meet new people. From group projects to consulting clubs and co-ops, the possibilities are endless. While the extent that one chooses to develop relationships — from acquaintances to Ruloff’s trivia partners — is a matter of personal preference, there is a certain fundamental component to any social tie that serves as the foundation for future interaction. Yet, we fumble and hesitate to embrace this nicety in many situations. I am of course, speaking of a timeless yet increasingly confusing greeting: saying hello.
While in the real world, one can easily choose to never see an individual for the rest of their lives, the intimate nature of the Cornell campus — for better or for worse — makes it quite easy to run into others that one has met in the past.
Saying “hi” is usually a bad idea. But, it could also be a good idea. It’s confusing. I said hello to someone the other day — let’s say her name is Jenny. It occurred to me, soon after I said hello, that we might be walking in the same direction. Now, I had her along by my side and I had no idea whether she wanted to continue to talk to me. 15 minutes later, we were walking into the same lecture hall, after a strangely familiar conversation — had we spoken about these topics before, possibly two years ago (the last time I spoke with her)? It was entertaining, but in retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have said hello.
Saying hi means that you acknowledge another person’s existence, met them in the past and know them well enough to possibly encourage a “stop and chat.” Saying hello is risky, if the social counterpart does not reciprocate your acknowledgement, then you’ve just made a fool of yourself. Facebook and Instagram add another layer of complexity to the issue as well — individuals who are active on social media will naturally be salient in more people’s minds than others. An Insta-famous student, who consistently lands over two hundred likes for a photo of a cream cheese bagel, will have more people tempted to say hi to them, than they would say hi to others. What follows are a senior’s personally developed guidelines to saying hello in socially murky situations:
A friend from abroad you’re beginning to lose touch with: This is prime time for a stop and chat. Make sure to throw in some buzzwords if they’re willing to reminisce. “Hey, how are classes going? Remember that one time at __Opium____(insert European nightclub you both went to)? Are you still keeping in touch with __Hannah__(insert mutual friend from state school also in abroad program)?”
Freshman Year Writing Seminar: Don’t say hi. Unless you feel compelled to reignite your scholarly discussion on “Six Pretty Good Books,” there is no reason to feel obliged in this situation.
Your Friend’s Ex-Girlfriend: This one is tricky. I would say it depends largely upon how close of a friend this is and how recently they broke up. Since you both would need to make some sort of expression of recognition upon eye contact, I would opt for the quick phone check. This avoids interaction for the time being, yet does not permanently preclude future potential warm wishes. Who knows, maybe they’ll get back together?
Same Fraternity/Sorority, but not really friends: Let’s face it. We’re not all best friends with everybody in our respective fraternities and sororities. In any group of this size, there are bound to be some people you either don’t have the time to become buddies with, or just have different interests. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t say hi though. By “hi,” in this case, I mean an upward head nod. The head nod is one of the biggest social inventions of modern history. It’s cool, quick and detached. Kudos to whoever brought the head nod into our lives.
Your Grad T.A. from Sophomore Year: Smile, they don’t have many friends. And if they don’t remember you, there is little potential for embarrassment. You have little to lose here, because in all likelihood, your social networks don’t have much overlap.
Friends from Orientation Week: If you stayed friends well into freshman year, definitely say hi. They likely remember your night in the basement of the fraternity formerly known as TEP’s annex as well as you do. So, to avoid any delayed lukewarm smirk once you’ve reached his or her peripheral vision, be the bigger man/woman and give a nice wave.
Hopefully these guidelines will provide a more standardized format for hello etiquette. After all, it is my sincere hope to one day live in a world where all can say hi in the most peaceful and socially secure fashion.
Philip Susser is a senior in the College of Human Ecology. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. An Ithaca State of Mind appears on alternate Wednesdays this semester.