When greeting a passing stranger on a walking path in small town Wisconsin, it is important to be friendly without being overly aggressive. Eye contact must be made, but only briefly. Premature eye contact leads to discomfort for both parties since prolonged eye contact with a passing stranger on a walking path is not acceptable. Nor is passing without offering a greeting after eye contact has already been made. Premature greetings (before or after eye contact) creates an extended interval of extreme awkwardness. On days of unusually nice or poor weather, there is always the possibility of using a comment about the weather as filler, though if one prefers to go this route, it is best to not offer a greeting first, but rather to use the observation of the weather in place of the greeting. Example: "Nice day, huh?" is perfectly acceptable and friendly if the proper amount of time is given for the stranger to respond to the comment. If one decides to reply to the stranger's reply, the reply should be a statement that the stranger will feel no obligation to answer. Example: "Have a good one."
In order to avoid premature eye contact when approaching an oncoming stranger, find some natural object far off to one's right to feign interest in. Following a sloping trajectory, from high right, to middle left, return eyes to the path when the oncoming stranger is about 5 to 7 paces away. Depending on the stranger's demeanor, choose one of the following options:
- A stranger who appears to be friendly: Smile as eye contact is made and say "Hi" in a medium toned voice. Never wave.
- A friendly looking stranger who appears to be absorbed: Be prepared to deliver a closed lipped smile with a singular nod if incidental eye contact is made.
- A stranger who is familiar, a walking path regular: A wave with a nod is acceptable.
- A stranger with a dog is best greeted via the dog with a high pitched, "Hey poochie poochie." If the stranger stops for you to admire the dog and the dog seems friendly, stopping, putting out a hand and complimenting the dog is an advisable option and replaces a more generic greeting. A conversation focused on the breed of the dog may evolve, but any body movement by the owner in the direction of her original trajectory is a sign to move on.
- A stranger who appears to be unfriendly (frowning, bloodied, armed) is best passed with neither eye contact nor greeting.
Note: This formula is generic in nature and must be altered in aberrant circumstances such as when passing very old strangers, when the passing strangers are a middle aged man and a teen aged girl, when very small children are present. If passing a minority stranger, make sure to adhere strictly to the generic code, being sure not to be overly friendly, nor detectably aloof.
Further note: Not offering a greeting may be better than offering a late one which puts the passing stranger in the awkward situation of having to decide whether to answer the greeting after passing or to ignore it. There is some debate over which is the proper response to a late greeting. If put in this situation, mumbling a response is a safe middle ground that can be interpreted as either a response or simply as ambient noise depending on which interpretation is less disconcerting.
Most importantly, the entire interaction must come off looking causal and not at all calculated.