Why do you not say hello as you walk by one another? Why when a stranger walks by do you not smile but instead look at your feet or stare into the distance? Where is the awkward ‘hiya’ or rhetorical ‘you alright?’. Northerners acknowledge one another - and not just in our own territory either. We sense one another wherever in the world we are – and that is why on the London Underground, the most antisocial and unwelcoming part of the whole South, I have found myself chatting to northern strangers.
Why are we Northerners so excited by other Northerners when we’re Down South? Is it because our chat is so very different from yours, our southern brothers and sisters? You don’t get our teasing and can’t handle your drink like we can?
Perhaps it’s something more serious. Perhaps it’s because we know what it’s like to be forgotten. We know what it means for governments to promise to improve all schools and hospitals and really mean only up to the Midlands. Maybe it’s because our public transport is nothing compared to yours. We rely not on the government but on one another. We are grateful for schemes like the charity Berwick Cancer Cars, which provides free transport to cancer patients in their area to reach appointments at ‘local’ hospitals over an hour away. We know the South struggles with hardships too, but perhaps it’s our shared experience of always being a little behind the South that’s led us to acknowledge strangers as we walk our dog or nip to the shops.
Or maybe that’s not it at all. Maybe we say hello because of the weather. We wear shorts when it’s sunny but only ten degrees, we’ll go clubbing in the midst of winter and not bother to bring a jacket or refuse to wear wetsuits when swimming in the North Sea. Our northern toughness means we are not afraid of how people respond as we say 'hi' to them. It doesn’t matter if they start screaming, or stop for a long chat, or have a big dog. Last week us northerners sat outside in the rain eating fish and chips and it is this sort of nonchalance that enables us to speak to strangers.
That’s a stretch I admit. It’s more likely we say hello because in the North there is no such thing as a stranger. Most people in the North simply know everyone. If you’re walking to the shops you’re most likely to bump into someone from primary school, your cousin’s ex-girlfriend, the well-known town drunk and of course that one person you want to avoid. We say 'hi' to strangers as we assume that even if we don’t recognise them we probably know them and just in case it looks rude we have to acknowledge them.
I understand, dear South, that acknowledging strangers may seem to you like an odd hobby. Yet I would truly suggest it is something you should introduce in-between your heatwaves, thriving high streets and weird coffee shops. You can make someone’s day with a little hello.