As Malcolm Pryce points out in Don’t Cry For Me Aberystwyth, the fourth book in his noir series about detective Louis Knight, the greeting was invented early in human history to solve the problem of “strangers”. Once people were numerous enough for there to be a chance you might meet someone you didn’t know, it was necessary to have some mechanism for indicating that you were not a threat. “Nice day.” “How are you?” “Look at this rain!”
But the point that Pryce makes is that the real power of the greeting is in the fact that nutters can’t do it. For some reason, the disturbed, the psychotic, the crazed axe murderers, can’t manage to engage in natural-sounding small talk. They give themselves away instantly, allowing you to back away before running to round up a gang of villagers with burning torches. Works every time.
But I’ve realised that there is an exception. I’m a relatively normal human being, a little reserved and not particularly extrovert it’s true, but if I meet someone I don’t know, my greeting and small talk definitely pass the nutter test . Usually. The one case when I might plausibly be mistaken for an incoherent crazy person is when I meet an attractive member of the opposite sex.
Stammering. Not a problem usually: my eloquence is generally assured, since I tend to compose actual sentences in my head before speaking them. (It’s a politician’s trick.) Yet in the presence of beauty, that all goes to pot and “M-m-my, name is S-s-s-t S-s-s-t S-s-s-teve.” is about the peak of my achievement. If even that. Stuttering out some kind of incomprehensible observation about the weather or the location is just as likely.
And blushing. What’s that for? I’m not sure what it’s for generally — probably some sort of social signalling adaption — but in the case of meeting potential mates, you’d think that evolution would have eradicated it. You go bright red, feel a burning sensation and start to sweat. Yeah, that’s attractive. That’ll earn her admiration.
I’m telling you this because I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. I don’t even think it’s mainly a male thing, although I could be wrong about that. Oh, I know it’s not universal, because we all know of the suave bastards who can do “Hey baby, how you doin’?” without the slightest sign of stress. At least, I think they’re not mythical. But, clearly, the blush-stammer reaction is still in the gene pool. Maybe it fulfils some purpose which actually gives it an evolutionary advantage. But I can’t think of one. Fortunately, the genes which do it to me are not going to outlive me.