Let's Talk with Lois Winston

February 29, 2024

Overly Friendly or Downright Nosy?

Up until the last few years, I’ve lived my entire life in and around two major northeast cities. Now that I’m living in the south, I’ve come across something I’d never experienced in either the NY or Philadelphia metro areas. Down south, it’s impossible to run routine errands without getting sucked into conversations with total strangers.

Here’s an example from a recent morning’s trip to the bank and supermarket:

I stopped at the bank to cash a check. Members of Booklover’s Bench share in the various expenses associated with running the blog. One person will pay the bill, then the others will reimburse her or him. I had recently paid a small bill for the group. When broken up amongst us, it amounted to a whopping $1.13 per member. Everyone except one member had reimbursed me via one of the payment apps. Because her bank wouldn’t allow her to send a payment less than $5.00, she mailed me a check.

When I entered the bank, I was the only customer. You’d think I’d be able to zip in and out. And yet, it took me nearly fifteen minutes to cash that check. Why? Because the teller couldn’t wrap his head around why someone would write a check for $1.13, and he wasn’t satisfied with the simple explanation that it was reimbursement. He then segued into a variety of other topics unrelated to my $1.13 check.

I couldn’t even tell a lie and say, “Thanks, I’m late for an appointment. Gotta run,” because he hadn’t yet cashed my check.

Errand running is not my favorite pastime. It eats up a huge chunk of my day when I could be writing. I should have deposited the check electronically, but I never expected a quick trip to the bank to take so long.

When another customer entered the bank, the teller finally decided it was time to end my transaction and asked, “How would you like this?” Was he trying to be funny, or did he think I wanted a hundred and thirteen pennies? Or maybe twenty-two nickels and three pennies? When I told him just as a dollar and thirteen cents, he asked if wanted the funds in an envelope. I declined the envelope and dropped the money into my coat pocket.

Royalty free image from Pixabay

I then drove to the supermarket where the bagger and cashier started up a conversation about the song currently playing over the sound system. The cashier was incensed that the song was a cover of a George Michael song and not the original. (Note: my choice of incensed is not hyperbole.) This was not a conversation between the two employees as they rang up and bagged my order. Both kept trying to elicit my opinion on the subject.

I have no opinion of George Michael or whoever was covering the song, but as with the teller, I didn’t want to be rude. However, the line was backing up. You’d think one of the other customers would make a nasty comment loud enough for the cashier and bagger to speed things up. That’s what would have happened back in Philadelphia, New York, or New Jersey. Not where I live now. As a matter of fact, in previous situations, other customers in line have chimed in with their own opinions on the topic du jour.

I get it. Most bank tellers and retail workers have boring jobs, doing the same task over and over eight hours a day, five days a week. I also suspect part of their job training is in politeness, and they think it’s polite to engage customers in this way. I don’t mind a friendly, “How are you today?” that I can answer with a smile and a short, “Fine thank, you,” no matter how my day is going. But then, they usually want to know what my plans are for the remainder of the day, as if we’re BFFs!

Rarely, would I come across an overly chatty salesperson in any of the places I used to live, and I can’t ever remember a stranger standing in line behind me try to strike up a conversation. These people better watch out, though. I’m an author, and everything is character or plot fodder.

What’s it like where you live? Do strangers consistently try to draw you into conversations, or do they rarely even make eye contact? Post a comment for a chance to win a promo code for a free download of the audiobook version of A Sew Deadly Cruise, the ninth book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series.

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Posted in Let's Talk, with Lois Winston • Tags: , , , |  45 Comments


45 thoughts on “Overly Friendly or Downright Nosy?

  1. Here in Florida where most of us once lived up north and most of us keep to ourselves. If someone asks me a question I’ll chat for a few minutes and we are friendly with our neighbors. I find it hard to make friends, someone with common interests.

    1. Paula, the only time I see any of my neighbors is when I’m out for a walk, and someone is walking their dog. Most smile and say hello. A few stop to chat. But it’s a far cry from what I’ve experience while shopping. I find it a very strange phenomenon!

  2. I must visit sometime. I lived in New York and now in Maine … further north. Why, NYC is practically a gabfest. Time to visit the south and experience the conversational largesse.

  3. In rural America we wave at everyone as we drive by. So, while we may not have a chance to chat, we brighten each other’s day that way

    1. Margo Sue, waving hello is wonderful. I would have appreciated a quick transaction and a friendly wave from the teller instead of a 15 minute inquisition. But I grinned and bore it.

  4. Usually the neighbors will wave hello but they usually keep to themselves. Most people do not want a conversation.

    1. That’s what I was used to, Deborah. And I’d never ask personal questions of a stranger or casual acquaintance. I think that’s rude. However, I didn’t want to be rude by saying so.

  5. Good Morning Lois,
    I live in San Diego and was a Grocery worker for 36 years. Most of my career was spent behind the check stand and we were encouraged to check with speed and friendliness. In the “olden days” ,1979, when I was hired, it was a great career with benefits and good pay. I would always sense the customer and their desire to chat a bit or hurry up and get out and act accordingly. People nowadays have too many time constraints, or have no desire to chit chat at all. A lot of the times you have people on their phone, too busy to even say hello. So there is a problem on both sides with attitude and consideration. It is a balance that all need to consider. Most people nowadays don’t even smile when you pass them on the street or say hello in a friendly way. I have to say we need to get back to a slower pace and back to considerate basics.

    That bank teller had the nerve! What is the reason he would even consider questioning you? It is YOUR business! I’d have to say I would send an email to the bank, but your time is money (at least $1.13 ha ha) It’s a shame that some employees just don’t know their boundaries. I suppose I have been one of those employees from time to time. In my later career, I have to say, I finally found my balance.

    Take care and I hope you don’t have anymore of those completely annoying days. Thank you for bringing sunshine to our days with all of these lovely posts.


    1. Tracey, you’re so right. It’s all about boundaries and balance. Thanks for chiming in. I’m sure I’ll have more of those days, but if they give me ideas for characters, plots, and scenes, I suppose I can’t complain that much!

  6. It’s definitely a Southern thing, Lois. Even though I live in a big city, new arrivals are often amazed at how “friendly” people are here.

    1. I don’t mind friendly, Gay. I prefer friendly to scowling people or clerks and salespeople who are so engrossed in their phones that they ignore you. But prying questions from strangers are another thing altogether.

  7. Yep, run into it all the time here in Alabama. BTW, next time, I’ll buy you a coke instead of sending you $1.13 check.

  8. Lois, we’ve talked about this. Gay, respectfully, it’s not exclusive to the South. As a writer, I love to study people. Sitting behind my desk, I do so in isolation, unless I pick up the phone. I often engage people in conversation, so I can’t criticize anyone who engages me. Now if they ask what color my underwear is or how I identify, maybe then, I’ll stop the conversation short. But in a world where automation is king and how we conduct business these days, I believe people are starved for communication. By the way, my checkers at my grocery store know my name. Interesting post as always.

    1. Donnell, I think the only people who ever knew my name were the people at the bank I went to for 23 years before moving. They were the nicest people I’ve ever come across in any service industry. However, I don’t think any of them would ever have interrogated me over a $1.13 check the way the teller at my current bank did.

      1. Lois, times in banking are changing. When I went to wire money from an account into my mother’s for her estate, I had to get approval from the bank manager. Yes, agreed $1.13 was over the top and none of his business. Add insult to injury one bank changed me $40 for the wire, the other bank charged me $40 to receive. But that’s a different blog topic 🙂

  9. Hi , here where I live in West Texas, I guess some people are like that at the bank and at the stores, but mostly because it is a small town and just about everyone knows everybody.

  10. The most intimate thing a supermarket cashier says to me is, “Did you find everything you wanted?” Or “How is your day going?” I haven’t noticed any of them being overly chatty.

    1. I’d much prefer it that way, Nancy. I just returned from a trip to the market, and once again a cashier, who was probably in her late teens or early twenties, asked me how I planned to spend the rest of my day. I was tempted to tell her I was going to spend it killing people, but I don’t think she would have appreciated mystery writer humor. 😉

  11. Here in NW Florida, it is so much different from growing up in NYC. It was quite the change. I wasn’t used to people waving a hello and asking how I was doing. It is a nice change.

    1. Baileybounce2, I guess I’m just used to people who don’t ask personal questions of strangers. It’s difficult to accept that as the norm when you’ve never experienced it before.

  12. We live in a wooded rural area in PA. When I go food shopping, there are certain customers or employees that I see every week and we’ve gotten to into quick chats.

    1. Barbara, quick chats are fine with people you’ve come to know. I’ve never had a problem with that as long as there isn’t a line of customers behind me who are being held up. However, in both the instances I wrote about, the bank teller, cashier, and bagger were all people I’d never interacted with previously.

  13. Better get used to it, Lois. It’s a cultural thing that will either irk you to death (which it sounds like it’s doing now) or you’ll come to enjoy. It’s kind of like ‘island time’ in Hawaii. You either love it or hate it! Aloha!

  14. Most people in my small town in New England, people do say hello. Every so often I pass someone walking who do not say hello and actually look down as they walk by. I always say hello.

  15. I got interrogated at the bank for an $11.00 check. People here for the most part are not friendly. If I walk past someone I make eye contact and try to say hi, but they just ignore me. I hold the door open for people, and they don’t even thank me, just expect it. It’s a different world than the one I grew up in.

    1. Robyn, what I find worse is when people don’t hold the door open for others. I think people were more polite years ago, and I don’t know why common courtesy is now a thing of the past. 🙁

  16. I’m totally the type to talk to strangers wherever I go (whether in a city or smaller town, east coast or west coast), so I can relate to the “southern” approach you described. Though there ARE times when I may be in a hurry or not feeling great and then I just hope to get my tasks done quickly and quietly, so I can also relate to the desire to make your purchase or cash your check without extensive commentary from those around you! Where I live now, I encounter a combination of personality types where this is concerned – I think it kind of depends on where I’m going and how busy it is.

  17. I live in a friendly region, and folks will include you in a conversation if you show interest, but one is not often dragged into conversations if interest is not shown.

  18. Where I live, everyone talks to everyone most of the time. Sometimes they give you unsolicited advice when selecting produce, but I always enjoy it. Our local store doesn’t have gluten-free items so I shop for that in the next town over. When I’m in there, it’s like I’m on a SWAT mission. I’ve got my list, my fast sneakers, and I am literally hauling buggy, so there are no conversations to be had. There’s a time and a place for everything. I like it both ways. Sometimes it can be most of the day gone by and I haven’t spoken to anyone. It’s good to be reminded that we live on a planet with other people.

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