Growing up in a small town (with a population of approximately 2000), where everyone knew everyone, it was common courtesy to give a friendly smile and a wave as you passed by a fellow member of the community, whether walking down the street or driving by in your car. We always acknowledged each other.
Moving from a small country town to a city can change you and also the way you go about simple gestures, such as greeting those you pass on the street. Suddenly you are surrounded by unfamiliar faces. In addition, moving to another country can also contribute, as the initial language barrier can put a dint in your confidence to speak up. I suddenly found myself in both situations. I had moved from a small country town in Australia to the busy, bustling city of Rotterdam in The Netherlands. Not only Rotterdam, but the dodgiest area of Rotterdam South, where giving an innocent smile to the wrong kind of person could be perceived as an invitation for an uncomfortable and inappropriate conversation. I quickly learned to walk the streets with my eyes glued to the ground.
Over the years, I eventually lost my confidence to look people in the eye and to greet them with a polite gesture as I walked by; whether it be a slight tilt of the head, a smile, a verbal greeting of some sort, or a full wave. My confidence to complete this simple friendly gesture, particularly towards those I had not yet become acquainted with, seemed to have faded away over the years.
We now live in a smaller city of the Netherlands, where I feel safe and comfortable, yet I still find myself fixing my eyes to the ground as I pass those around me. Recently I visited a friend of mine who was born in Australia, and moved to the Netherlands many years ago. I noticed as we walked to the local playground that she still made a concerted effort to greet every single person that she passed, even if she didn’t know them. I noticed that everyone she smiled at and said good morning to, was a little taken aback at first, but was pleasantly surprised and enthusiastically smiled and greeted her in return. It was as though she had made their day and this was so refreshing to see. A smile can be so contagious!
I have decided that I am going to change my ways. I want to get back to that place where I do not hesitate to greet strangers. I have no problem greeting friends, colleagues, neighbours or acquaintances, it’s greeting strangers that is the challenge. Rather than seek the comfort of the ground with my eyes, I am going to seek out their eyes and make contact. They may be staring at the ground, but if their eyes do eventually meet mine, I will smile back with confidence and wish them a good morning/afternoon. Just as I did back in my home town fifteen years ago.. only now the greeting will take place in Dutch of course.
“A smile confuses an approaching frown”. ~Author Unknown.
It has been proven that along with the brain, your face also plays a big part in your emotions, reinforcing the feelings that we are having. Our outwards signs of emotion seem to intensify our actual inner emotions. Psychologists recently discovered that people who have botox treatments are actually less anxious in general than people who are able to frown! (You can read more on that here). On the opposite end of the scale, I would also think that if they are unable to smile as well as they could without the treatment, this could also affect their positive emotions.
Simply put, smiling is something that I love to do. We all love to do it right? Smiling not only makes us happy, but also those around us happy. Plus, it is so simple to do, and it takes no effort at all when true and meant. Actually, most people are turned off by the appearance of a smile that takes effort, because this usually means that it’s fake. It’s not hard to detect a fake smile as it often involves only the mouth, not the eyes. It’s the true, heart-felt smiles that everyone loves to see and we should do it more often. Even for strangers.
It’s not going to be easy, thats for sure. Over the years, I have developed a habit that will be hard to crack. But I think it will be appreciated. Who knows, I may even make someone’s day with a simple smile.