I always try to be nice to strangers.
Cretinous though they often are in return, it's good to know you've done all you can to brighten the mundanity of an exchange at the coffee counter, or the trauma of collecting a parcel with one of those sodding red cards.
Why not fight the system with a little smile?
It sure beats the approach of the gentleman outside the co-op yesterday, hurling abuse at anyone who passed him by. According to him I'm a "f***ing little blonde p**k", and let me tell you - as a man who's getting bigger and balder every day, and who's not as sharp as he once was -frankly, I'll take it.
But a smile back would have done.
People are generally so miserable these days that they respond to a smile with a look of horror. Try smiling at someone in the street today and see what you get. When you bother to preface a shop transaction with a "hello" nowadays, the cashier will either go red and sink down behind the till while they consider their response, or retort with "Oh! Aren't you cheerful?!", as if you've got some sort of social problem. You happy weirdo freak.
To be honest, I'm generally not that cheerful inside. I'm just as pissed off at having received "We called while you were out" as everyone else. But I do try to amuse myself.
Don't get me wrong, I can't bear those people who are perennially cheerful either, those from the "Vesperal Salutations, Bar Keep - a pint of your finest ale" school of over the top bonhomie. The kind of people who love Monday mornings because they can ask about your weekend before you've taken off your coat. Nor do I endorse the approach of the over-enthusiastic, corporately trained boy in Rymans who practically offered me dinner with my plastic document wallets on Tuesday. Have a nice day yourself.
There's a half way.
And look, he whispers - if you need a reason to be nice to strangers, here it is. Every day since I moved to Exeter, the cost of my breakfast has been going down, down, down. Bothering to actually speak to the lady behind the counter has so far earned me 15 extra sachets of brown sauce, 6 extra rashers of bacon, a daily upgrade from a medium to a large Americano, and 22 unwarranted stamps on my loyalty card.
No wonder I'm smiling...
(Of course, I may be racking up some terrible sexual debt, in which case, smile no more.)