San Francisco is one of my favorite cities in the world, and I was able to visit twice recently: April 26-29 to attend the 2013 Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, and May 24-26 to take a workshop at the Center for Digital Storytelling. In both trips I was also able to visit family and friends.

What I forgot to do both times was to go see what’s in the space formally occupied by a bookstore: A Clean, Well Lighted Place for Books. Why? I wanted to revisit the scene of one of my earliest introductions to the wonderful eccentricity of SF.

It was the summer of 2002 and I was in town to visit my girlfriend (now wife) in our long distance relationship. It was a weekday, so I was wandering around town while she was at work. Earlier that morning Valerie had suggested that I go check out the bookstore, which was a short walk from her apartment. As I entered I saw an older white man browsing a table full of paperbacks. He caught my eye because he looked like my department chair at the time!

I walked toward him, behind two other men: a white guy, and a Latino. My department chair look-alike said hello to each person, using his take on culturally appropriate greetings.

To the White man: “Hey, how ya doin’?”

To the Latino man: “¿Hola, cómo estás?”

To me, the African American man: “As-Salaam-Alaikum, my brother!”

I can’t remember how the other cats reacted, but I just nodded, as I was too shocked to provide a culturally appropriate response, such as “Wa-Alaikum-Salaam.” I’ll be ready next time, however!

I know many folks who are annoyed by those who use what they believe are cultural appropriate expressions with members of different ethnic or racial groups, especially when they are incorrect in their assumptions. I welcome these attempts, as they are reaching out to try to make a connection, when they can so easily ignore those who are different from them. What do you think, readers?