land of the chatting strangers

Before I get out of my car, I now say to myself:  mind your manners.

Yes, I have to remind myself each time.  Because I am no longer in the polite-yet-cool New England, a place where idle chit chat is often frowned upon.  Making conversation with strangers is something that has to be eased into, a toe dipped gently into the water to see if it’s frigid or welcoming.

Not so Idaho, where every contact with another human being is a big rousing cannon ball off the dock.

I kid you not.

Last Friday, my first day here, I drove to town to get more groceries.  Yes, I know I told you about Costco, but there were a lot more groceries to buy.  In fact, at Walmart I just kept shopping until my cart was full and I was tired of pushing its weight from aisle to aisle.

The nice lady at the register asked me if I’d found everything I needed.

“Uh, no,” I said.  She gave me a strange look so I reluctantly explained, “I couldn’t fit any more in the cart, so I stopped.”

“I hope I can get it all back in the cart for you,” she said, eyeing what seemed like miles of food on the conveyor belt.  “Do you have someone at home who can help you unload it?”

“Well, no,” I admitted.  “I’ll be doing it myself.”

She thought that was too bad.  I agreed.  We then chatted about the weather and how busy Walmart was all of a sudden.  And soon it would be summer and wouldn’t that be something after such a winter.  And then she told me to have a nice day.

And then I headed to another grocery store to finish what I’d started.  But I was starving, so okay, I admit I went to McDonald’s first.  I don’t know when I was last in a McD’s, but it was a hot day and I thought I could eat a little burger inside where it was cool.  The parking lot was gridlocked and those people trying to park (like me) had to be patient.  When I finally parked and was on the sidewalk, a woman in the car next to mine rolled down her window and shared her frustration with me.

“You’d think they’d see my brake lights!  You think they’d let me get out!  I have to go back to work!!”

I commiserated with her.  Her escape was blocked by the line of cars at the drive up window.  I let her vent for another minute as cars continued to block her in.

As I waited for my burger (they deliver them to your table now, big surprise), the cleaning lady asked if she could sweep up the old french fry under my feet.  Of course, I said.

“People don’t have manners any more.  You should see what I see,” she huffed.  “Kids, grown ups, doesn’t make any difference.”  She went on to tell me about the horrible manners of her husband’s teenage grandchildren.  I commiserated and let her unload all of her frustrations.  She told me to have a nice day.

At the Dollar Store, the woman asked me what I was going to make with 21 assorted disposable pans.  I told her.  And then we talked about the weather.  It was going to get cold and rainy.  She told me to have a nice day, too.

And while in line at grocery store #2, the jolly man behind me said that I must be making one hell of a spaghetti sauce.  Or lasagna?

“Lasagnas,” I replied.  “A lot of them.”

“I can tell,” he said, triumphant.  “Do you know it’s supposed to start raining tomorrow?”

“I heard that,” I said.  “Have a nice day.”

“You, too!”

The bagger and the lady at the register wished me a nice day and I wished them a nice day and all was right with the world.

Because I was having a nice day.  A very nice day.  It would take fourteen trips back and forth to unload all the groceries, which wasn’t so nice, but shopping had been fun.  It had taken me a while to get back in the swing of things here in this foreign land, but I’ll get the hang of it in no time.  Over the years I’ve learned that total strangers will ask me what I’m doing this weekend or admire my earrings or ask for a recipe when they see my groceries on a conveyor belt.  The Rhode Island license plate was a big topic of conversation in many parking lots, but I have an Idaho one now.

In another few weeks I’ll be chatting like a native again.

Have a nice day.




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