I've never been a Texan. Of course, I've been there, driven across its endless width, bored silly until reaching Big Bend National Park and the darkest, star-filled sky I've ever gazed upon, but that's beside the point I'm making. Even though ranchers and barbecue and football aren't all that important to me, the greeting I seem to default to is one used by some folks with those interests (yes, I'm fine with a bit o' the ol' stereotyping here!). Dangit, I like to say howdy! In fact, it's my preferred salutation, and I had to consider it before I could figure out why.
If you say, "How are you?" there's bound to be some sort of potential answer there. In passing, this could lead to a Larry David-coined "stop'n'chat" of an often undetermined length. I'm just so busy that I can't take that chance.
If you say a simple "hi" or "hello" you'd better accompany that with a genuine, friendly smile or at least a little eye twinkle or you may come across as rather terse. In the end, a more succinct head nod with a slight curl under of the lower lip and chin might serve just as well. Think of Jerry Seinfeld in the bakery waiting for Elaine's number to be called. She waits anxiously as Jerry bides his time with a black-and-white frosted cookie, snacking in silent solidarity with the stoic but friendly-faced black man across the store who's engaged in the very same. The knowing glance -- the head nod, lower lip purse -- is all they need.
Why not try a "What's up?" or a slightly hipper sounding "wussup?" Still, there's an imbedded question there, even though it's a fairly typically dismissed piece of punctuation. I don't need to hear "nothin'" or "not much" because I can gather that much without asking.
How about a simple and to the point "Yo." If it's not too intensely delivered, this can work well, but there is the ring of the poseur in it. No, I didn't grow up on Flatbush Ave. and yes, I do have some favorite hip hop tracks, but alas it's not what my parents taught me as an appropriate greeting -- sort of prompts the same reaction as the classic "Hey is for horses" if delivered too abruptly.
This brings me back to good ol' trusty "howdy". As a shortened version of the far more cowboy "How do?", I feel it does the job of acknowledging others without implying "pardner" for the most part. Also, it invites not in the least, any length of stop'n'chat because, without any inflection at the end, a solid "howdy" successfully loses its original inquisitive ring.
So, if you can't pause and have a real conversation, and if you just want to be friendly to strangers, try a "Howdy" once in a while. Better yet, some good, old-fashioned eye contact might do the trick; "pardner" that with a toothy smile (or even a toothless smile) and you've got yourself a polite enough greeting for almost any scenario, not that you needed my help with that!