Travel Advice – Just Smile
Wednesday, November 25th, 2009
That is one of the best pieces of travel advice I’ve received. Smiling is something we sometimes forget, but it would do us all well to consider its importance when in a foreign culture. Best of all it is easy, it’s free and its benefits are priceless.
Often in our busy lives we are so focused on accomplishment and getting things done that we forget why we are here in the first place. Generally speaking the purpose of the work we are caught up in, is for the support of our life and our families and for our own gratification. And what is our underlying motivation for supporting those things? Simple happiness, of course. And when we are happy, we smile.
At some point, feeling the pressure of being caught like a hamster running on a wheel we decide to take a vacation or think about moving to Costa Rica and maybe even break away altogether from the North American lifestyle looking to the Costa Rica culture. But we humans are creatures of habit and many of us have trouble shedding the mentality of the culture we have come from. That is especially true for those of us from the big city.
I’ve been to highly populated places like New York and Beijing, and felt the despondency of way too few smiles. But the abundant generosity of smiles in a remote village of Tibet or in a little tourist town in Costa Rica, has lightened my heart and filled me with renewed hope for humanity.
My young daughter brought my attention to this subject, some years ago, when I took her to the city for the first time. We lived in a small Montana town.
“Mom,” she said, “Why don’t they smile? People walk by and nobody smiles and says hello, like we do at home. “ Then, undaunted by my attempted explanation, she proclaimed, “I don’t care, I’m going to smile at them any way.” This practice has served her well in her adult life.
I’ve lived in Costa Rica for the past two years and found the people to be friendly and good natured. I have also noticed something that, at first, seemed odd. In the small town of Puerto Viejo, when I walked down the street, often people did not smile and say hello. I was in a new place and a bit shy so I just walked on. Then I remembered my daughter’s conviction. The next time I walked across town, I smiled and said hello to everyone I passed. (It was a much longer walk this time.) And you know what? My smiles and greetings were returned with the biggest and most genuine demonstrations of appreciation. There were smiles and laughter everywhere. I soon figured out that the missing smiles before, were due to the locals’ skepticism in dealing with tourists. Many tourists ignore the locals and just don’t smile.
In a foreign country, a smile that’s sincere and from the heart can break the language barrier and break the ice. You never know how far its influence will take you. So keep that smile on your face and be the first to say hello. Walk around with a silly grin and others will return it in kind, either that or they’ll think you’re looney and leave you alone, which keeps away the riff-raff. Smiling makes everyone look more attractive and the experts say it’s good for the health. So remember – just smile.