A smile can be a powerful tool. Although it’s an asset for happiness, it can also bring forward sadness, anger, or embarrassment. Globalization indeed created a world that often has no borders. Friendships and relationships now can easily be found everywhere because of mutual understanding. But often, there are moments of misunderstandings or awkwardness because of different perspectives.
One thing that I experienced and simultaneously found it awkward, and kind was that I was named the smiley face. My fellow Mediterranean people might find it familiar to always greet with a smile and in general, to be a bit more affectionate towards friends and even with strangers.
Personally, I am coming from a tiny community where almost everyone knows everyone. Especially the elders within the community know all the families in the town. When you go back in time, there is no doubt that we are all related somehow. For this reason, even if I don’t know someone directly, I would still greet them with a bright smile. Overall, growing up in a small town, being friendly, welcoming, and opening conversations with strangers have become typical habits in my daily life.
At some point, I volunteered at the international community for students. My responsibilities included helping and supporting new students to adjust to a foreign country and overcome any culture shocks and difficulties. Furthermore, the community would often have gatherings where anyone could join and perhaps make new friends and meet people from all over the world. In general, I would almost always join and try to have a talk with everyone. We would discuss any issue they might be facing or merely have friendly conversations on any topic. There was a time when I was also in the position of trying to adjust to a new life so I could understand that for some of our conversations were very helpful.
Sometimes it’s challenging to embrace a new beginning, especially when everything around is entirely different from what we are used to. In front of the dissimilar, we often feel intimidated and turn into timid and shy people. Therefore, I would always welcome new students with a bright smile and share with them my own experiences and how they could overcome their fears. And frankly, the easiest way to adjust to a new environment is communication. By conversing with others, you can learn nearly all the essential facts of daily life such as the appropriate greetings, best food in the town, places to visit or avoid, school life and in general other significant social habits of the local people.
During my time in the international community, I got the name of the smiley face. Although I am used to the idea of always smiling and talking with strangers, for others, that is an unusual habit. In the beginning, I felt that everyone around me was cold and unfriendly. But gradually I realized that living in a big city that moves at such a fast pace it’s only natural to not smile to every stranger that you meet on the bus, at the bank or the pub (or maybe in a pub you do).
Gradually I adapted to the culture of not greeting with a kiss on the cheek, and in general, I don’t smile to every other stranger that looks more friendly. Until one day, I met a guy from Columbia who had just arrived in the UK, and as a greeting, he did the usual a kiss on the cheeks. And I felt so surprised as if that’s not how I used to be.
Indeed, I agree with the notion of “when in Rome do as the Romans do,” but at the same time, do not lose yourself. Therefore, I realized that I should not change my ways simply to blend in with the rest.
When I got the name smiley face, I thought it was supposed to be an offense. But then I understood that by smiling, I could easily bring some form of happiness to others. By being friendly, the new students were becoming more open, and they sincerely felt welcome in this unknown country and culture.
A smile is a powerful weapon, and when it gives you joy, then it can certainly give joy to others as well. Even if it’s not always welcome, there is no harm in painting the world with bright smiles.