There is an interesting psychology to how members of a reference group respond when they meet each other. They either acknowledge the other person or they don’t. If they do, they must decide upon a level of acknowledgement: a nod, a “Hey,” a “How’s it going?” or another variant. If that reference group is in the majority, there’s less expectation (and liklihood) of acknowledgement (I wouldn’t say hello to random people I see on the street in Seattle, even though we both may be of the same nationality or skin color).
When I was an undergraduate, I went to a university that was about 90% European American and 2% African American. I worked with a couple of African Americans at the university, and was part of a discusion about the abovementioned phenomenon one day.
“When I’m walking on campus, and I see another Black guy, you have to say hello, you know? If you don’t, then you’re an a-hole because you’re snubbing him or her and not sticking together with your community.” I asked him if he was talking about people he knew, or people he didn’t know. He said both. “I don’t normally say hi to strangers, but on campus, I feel like I have to say hi to them if they’re Black. They’re likely freshman or transfer students, which means they’re going to hang out with others in the [Black] community who know me, and I don’t want them to say ‘Yeah, I saw that guy before. He isn’t very friendly.'”
So in his situation there’s a kind of a social pressure in his situation to say hi.
In Korea, among foreigners, I’ve noticed that in the bigger cities, foreigners are less likely to say hello to another foreigner they see on the street than in smaller towns. Why is this?
My intial thought is that it may be because in small towns, there are less foreigners in the community, meaning less choices for friendship within one’s reference group. If you’re at a hagwon with 8 foreign teachers, you’ve got a ready-made network of people who will show you around, introduce you to other foreigners who are likely to be friendly right away (as you come with an introduction from a friend), etc. If you are the only foriegner in your school, you’re breaking in from the outside. I’ve been in both situations.
Going from a smaller town in Korea to a bigger city, initially I greeted other foreigners on the street, but after getting snubbed a couple times, was socialized (through that rejection) to attempt to “snub them before they snub me,” meaning that as I’d see a foreigner approach, I’d get busy brushing some dust off my sleeve or looking at an object in the distance as I passed them. That was in my first year in Korea. Now I usually get a good look at them and smile if they make eye contact, unless they look particularly unsavory or surly (not usually the case).
Have you all noticed if reactions of foreigners to other foreigners are less exclusive in small towns vs. big cities? I’m curious of others’ experiences.