Friday, August 31, 2012

Smiling at Strangers

Recently, I did sort of an experiment. At first, it wasn’t at all determined to be one. I was just having a nice day at university and for some reason, I don’t even remember it, I was feeling very happy. So, while walking to town to do some errands, I smiled at everyone I met without even thinking about it. I just felt happy and I wanted to share this happiness. But after a short time I realized that most people don’t even look at you while crossing your way. The majority of people were looking at the pavement or in some other direction. Some looked at me, but they seemed to think I was crazy, smiling at strangers.

I started to think about it and I am surprised at how seldom people make eye contact and how rarely they give you a smile.
Of course, there were some exceptions. A lot of men did actually make eye contact and when they did they smiled back. I met someone who seemed to be in a very good mood, too. We were smiling at one another and I could honestly feel his happiness and friendliness and this made me even happier. 

I smiled then more often at strangers, but only on days I felt happy, because I wanted to give a genuine smile to others. On top of that, when I am happy, I can’t help but smile, so it was just a natural thing to do. What I have also recognized is that women were hardly ever looking at me and if they did, they looked away the next second. I think there was just one woman who was smiling back. I couldn’t make out any reasons for that yet. Maybe most men are more of an extrovert sort than women. But I hate to generalize that. Anyway, it wasn’t a representative study or something like that, but it is what I have experienced and I smiled at a lot of people, regardless of which age or gender.
I wonder if this is different in other countries or whether it would have been different if I wasn’t a woman.  Maybe other women tend to smile at men more often. Furthermore, it also depends on the cultural background. At university, we had a workshop on intercultural communication and the teacher, a woman from England who has already been in several countries to do those workshops, told us that when she came to Germany for the first time, she thought that Germans were very unfriendly because they hardly ever smiled at strangers. So this seems to be different in Great Britain and also in the US, I think. In contrast, there was also a Russian girl and she told us she thought Germans were the friendliest people she has ever met, smiling all the time. She explained that it is very uncommon in Russia to smile at others when you don’t know them, but that doesn’t mean at all that they are unfriendly. It is just something you usually only share with close friends.

I thought this to be quite interesting because I have never realized these facts before.

So maybe I too was walking self-absorbed and didn’t recognize other people’s smiles. I think most people here are absorbed in thought and therefore they don’t really recognize what happens around them. Moreover, there can be many reasons. Maybe they were having a bad day and thus it is just natural that they don’t smile at complete strangers.

However, some people even seem to get excited about receiving a little smile without any apparent reason. I enjoy these moments very much, seeing that you can make someone happy, just by smiling.

Happiness is something that always grows when it is shared. And a smile is the easiest way to share it.
In any case, a warm and genuine smile is such a valuable thing.

Thank you for reading my posts and for leaving such wonderful comments and opinions on this blog, I am sending you all a smile, although you can’t see it, but it is indeed an honest one. :)


  1. I come from the "Land of A Thousand Smiles", so it would be a different scenario when you come here. People are friendly and smile at anyone, even a complete stranger. Don't be surprised if someone unknown to you smiles, greets and asks "How are you?" I think it's all out of friendliness and the smile is genuine.

    It's good to smile cos it shows you're happy. You feel the positive vibe and make your day feel good.

    I'm happy to know you're smiling. I could feel its warmth.

    I'm sending you my smiles from across the miles.
    Stay happy and put on that sweet smile. You look beautiful. :))

    1. How wonderful it is that your country is known as the "Land of a Thousand Smiles"! I love what you tell me about it!

      Thanks a lot for your smile, I could also feel its warmth. :)
      Thank you so much! I am so happy to know you. :)

  2. Anonymous2/9/12 03:40

    This is an interesting subject; interesting because it changes with time, at least in our poor Western World.

    When I was younger, I was mostly an insular guy, I lived in Gozo Island first, and then in Isle of Man, after that happy period I started to dwell in continents, except when travelling.

    If you live on an island, it is more that probable that you will be friendly and a smiling person to everything that is moving on the ground, you smile to flowers swinging in the wind, you smile to goats, lambs, calf, birds, etc. even when they are running away from your passing lane, and of course you smile and chat with them is you have the opportunity, and also with people without doubt. And not always you know these people, they may be tourists or neighbours, it does not matter, there always be an interesting subject to chat about.

    When I was first in a city I found it very difficult to melt in the crow, you find me chatting with an alley cat, or a birds or even a plant if it had beautiful flowers, in a word I was thought to be a bit batty (maybe I am).

    Then I learnt about insecurity, mistrust, lack of manners, and all the other things that a big city has to offer to owners and strangers, and worst yet, I learnt that smiling to a strange was an act of weakness, (were you mad, gay, lonely, disturbed?). If you are a young man, try to smile directly to a young and pretty girl your age passing by and you risk to be accused of lecherous, or being chased into a hotel before you stop smiling! :)

    Then I went to the Asiatic South East, and find all things topsy turvy again.

    So there you are, it seems as if people is unsure in populated places and a bit relaxed in places where there are not many people.

    I do find merry people in Spain, and some of the others not too merry, France was a tough customer, Germany seemed full of so busy people that they had no time to socialize on the street. England was full of people glad to help strangers (it was some years ago, now there is, and rightly, a different attitude). The European East was very friendly, unfortunately, despite the propaganda, there are few people who speak two languages.

    That is my experience in just two small quick dabs.

    I guess we were more friendly in the past, but life can make people change if things get tough!

    1. Since I haven't been travelling and moving as often as you have so far, I haven't realized that this changes with time. I have lived in a small town near Nuremberg during my childhood and now I live in Passau, which isn't a big city, so one could have guessed people there were friendly.

      I don't think at all you are batty. :)

      It is so sad that smiling to strangers is considered as an act of weakness and that a man can't smile at a young woman. I mean, what is bad about smiling? You didn't offer a night's stay or something.

      It is interesting what you say about France. I have been there a few times and all the people I met were very friendly. I noticed that whenever you at least try to speak French with them, they are even extraordinary friendly. My French used to be really bad, but as soon as I said Bonjour and maybe three other words in bad French they were happy to help me. But that was also a few years ago.

      I am probably going to do a semester abroad in China, I hope people there will be friendly.

      Thank you so much for your commment and for sharing your experiences!