Everyone is so…freakin’…friendly here! People keep smiling at me as I walk down the street. It’s very strange. I keep glancing down, wondering if perhaps my skirt is tucked up in the back, or if I have a large smear of mustard on my t-shirt or something. But no. Everyone is just so…nice.

Store clerks greet me. They inquire solicitously after my health and frame of mind. I buy things, and people urge me to have a nice day.

The children aren’t used to this, and respond with more enthusiasm then is perhaps necessary or even desired. Elliot, especially, feels the need to explain to complete strangers where we live, how we just arrived, how fascinating we are. At least that’s how it feels to me, but everyone is so, well, nice to him.

And men that I don’t even know keep wanting to shake my hand! This is very strange for me. I went to church with my in-laws on Sunday, and afterwards so many people shook my hands. In Mauritania, men and women don’t shake hands. Men greet women verbally, and women hug and kiss each other. Men will hug each other, if they have a good relationship. But Islam prohibits men and women from touching each other at all.

But it’s not always this simple. Men who have traveled and who know something of Western culture might legitimately want to shake my hand, respecting my culture as I try to respect theirs. But others, viewing me as Western which equals immoral (whaddya mean you’re not exactly like Jennifer Aniston on Friends?), will try to shake my hand and hold on just a leetle bit too long. Creepy. I have to make a split-second judgement on whether or not to take each proffered hand; is this guy looking for an illicit thrill with a wild white woman, or is he just a nice, well-traveled man who wants to say hi? It’s exhausting.

On Sunday, I found myself starting to make those split-second decisions, then squelching them and remembering that I’m in America again. I shook many hands. At least this is better than the time I went from Mauritania to France, where the men greet you with a kiss on each cheek.

I’m working on being more friendly myself. So have a nice day, y’hear? And thanks so much for stopping by.

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