Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Economics of "Hello"

If you've ever lived in a small town or, in my case, went to college in a small town, you may have noticed strangers like to say "hello" to each other. But go to any big city and you'll notice no one says hello on the street. Here are some possible reasons why:

1) In big cities the opportunity cost of saying hello is high because there many other things to do. People vacation in big cities because there is always something fun going on. Time spent talking to strangers is more expensive to busy city dwellers.
2) In America making eye contact with someone usually results in a polite hello. So the less eye contact there is, the less hellos there will be. In big cities there is a large number of commuters, vacationers and just plain people. Your likelihood of seeing someone you know on the street is pretty low. So you look at peoples faces less, make eye contact less, and say hello less.
3) If you say hello to one person, you usually say hello to all people. In a small town you may pass a few people every so often. In a big city you are constantly walking pass strangers and can't be expected to say hello to all of them. This may be why people on boats wave to each other, but people in cars do not.
4) Most big cities are in the North where the weather is colder. When people dress warmly you see less of their face. Less face to face contact will result in less hellos. This could be another explanation of why people on boats (or motorcycles or convertibles) wave to each other.
5) Because of reasons 1, 2, 3, and 4 most big cities have created a culture of people that don't say hello. It's like the final episode of Seinfeld when Jerry, George, Kramer, and Elaine are weired out that people in the small town keep saying hello to them. A lasting cultural norm may increase the cost of saying hello and ensure that New Yorkers are always rude.

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