Avoiding Eye Contact

Pikes Place Market (2016)

Pikes Place Market (2016)

I admit that when I am walking anywhere in Seattle I tend to avoid eye contact. If I don’t know you, I will not greet you, smile or acknowledge your presence. I’ve become adapt of surveying my surrounding areas as I walk along. I look at the body language of people I may pass or look at the direction that people’s feet are pointed, waiting for the moment where I may need to redirect my walking to avoid interaction.

I wasn’t this way when I arrived in Seattle two years ago. I came to the City bright eyed and very much an open book. I’d look around, make eye contact and smile at anyone. Unfortunately, these motions landed me in some interaction hot water. I had enough of people getting into my personal bubble. I began to guard my bubble.

East Coast Hospitality

During August, my walking space bubble was popped during a trip to New Jersey. I remember one very distinct interaction on my first day on the east coast. I was walking along the side walk in front of Home Depot, minding my own business, head down, avoiding eye contact with everyone. I hear a random yet hearty “good afternoon!” and completely ignored it.

I was immediately accosted with a “hey!” which did grab my attention and generated a response of, “Oh, good afternoon to you too”. The gentlemen proceeded to with a cheery apology of “not all of us are bad people.”

Hence, I was introduced to the east coast expectation of greeting one another. From then onwards, any time eye contact was made or just a general passing of bodies occurred, some kind of acknowledgement was exchanged.  It was a rather jarring experience. I was use to being in my own head and space. I was unaware that I had become comfortable interacting with everyone on this plane of social existence.

East Coast versus West Coast Expectations

Several of us were discussing the social interactions of different parts of the US and of course, I shared my east coast experience. I thought New Jersey was a unique example, but I was informed the San Diego and Minnesota also had the same mentality. I pondered aloud about the striking difference between what was expected of me in those situations and what I was use to.   

I was then reminded of the Seattle Freeze. Living here in Seattle, social interactions were not as open. I had completely forgot about the phenomena. I remember hearing about the concept in my first month in Seattle but promptly forgot about it. But the discussion got me thinking about the expected social interaction I’m subjected to.

What has been your experience with interacting with strangers on the street on where you live versus where you’ve traveled? Do you have any stories that stick out?


Andrea Becker