Returning to the US after a week in France really slammed home how idiotically patronising people here can be. I did get a lot of stares in France, but absolutely no comments. Wherever I went, I was treated in an completely professional, neutral manner. In the first four hours back in the States, I was asked what was wrong with me, I was chided (jokingly) for speeding, I was complimented on my wheelchair handling skills, and a security officer offered to pray for me. Pretty damn incredible. What makes people think these comments are a) original, b) welcome or c) polite?
Here’s my working theory: here in the States, we have a cultural habit of superficial friendliness, which includes smiling at strangers and making small talk. I suspect that people just don’t know what to say to someone using a wheelchair or crutches, but they feel they have to come up with some pleasantry, and since awareness of the disability is the newest thing in the brain, a joke about speeding comes out before a comment about the weather.