Smile first. A pretty decent policy.

30 Jul

Pirate and I watched a documentary on Thailand the other day. What really stuck in my head after that was when the narrator was on this incredible train, smiling at people. He rode the night train to Bangcock – a “little fifteen hours of train” and as he boarded and searched for his seat he spoke about all the smiles. Smiles everywhere. From everyone. Other passengers, the conductor, old, young, and the women cooking and serving food in the dining car. The guy was filming as he was talking, walking down the aisle of the train car. An old lady smiled at him. He asked if he could sit with her, and asked her directly about the people in Thailand smiling. It was something like this:

“Why do the Thai people smile like that, what’s happening?”

“It’s a characteristic of Thai people…we talk and we have fun.  It’s our way of being..and firstly, why should we pout?”

“May I sit next to you?”

“Yes, go ahead.”

“So I like this philosophy. We smile first, and we talk after, is that it?”


(it’s in French, and I think I’m pretty accurate in my translation, but here’s the link, you can start watching for this particular portion at 17:46).

Pretty nice, right? I thought so. The documentary is called ‘Des Trains pas Comme les Autres’ and is focused on different or original trains for travel. Five out of five ti-punch.

Sadly, what I thought at that moment was how sad it is that in Guadeloupe the smile policy seems to be exactly the opposite. Here I have the impression that people put up a big wall, and it’s really hard to break through that. This is one of the reasons I find the culture kind of difficult here. Most folks, and certainly in any service setting I find this to be true, simply don’t smile at me. I don’t know if they smile at other people. I know that they don’t smile at me. Am I smiling at them? I don’t know. Honestly, probably I just look confused.  Sometimes I smile or try to make small talk but I find I don’t get much in return. So mostly, I smile if I’m smiled at, and I hate that it’s like that. I’d like to feel inspired to smile much more often when I’m out running errands or talking to people in the stores…  Many times however I’ve been blessed to stumble upon really nice friendly people. They stand out big time. It makes my DAY. Cheesy as it sounds, it’s cheesy-true – a smile from someone who doesn’t really need to smile at you is just uplifting. And, I might note, free and easy to do.
I’ve been observing people and their (lack of)smiles for a few days now, with this idea of ‘smile now, we’ll see later’ in my mind, and I’m sorry to report that people are just not frickin’ smiling. Next step will have to be to smile at people – REALLY make sure I’m smiling at them, and see if that helps.  There’s probably a lot more to this. I’m sure someone could berate me for being thoughtless and inconsiderate and how could I not realize that xyz and I should just smile if I want to and not expect it or care if I don’t get it in return. Sure. So, here’s the question: what will I do now? This seemingly small idea that smiling makes a huge difference I believe I believe to be true. Do I continue to smile only when smiled at? Do I try to smile first and see if it makes any difference in my day to day exchanges? I think I’ll try. I can’t force a faux smile. I’m going to try to think of something funny or nice that makes me smile each time an use that as my secret weapon in cases of no-smile-inspiration. We’ll see how it goes.

Say Cheese!



3 Responses to “Smile first. A pretty decent policy.”

  1. Momo February 12, 2013 at 15:57 #

    I am from Guadeloupe, I now live in the UK and it is so depressing how people here look so sad. I understand now you can’t really be yourself in the streets I used to smile more often but specially men here think you are making a pass at them! Jeez it is just a smile! Now I smile at work and with my friends. So sad…

    • Girl in Guadeloupe April 20, 2013 at 15:05 #

      Funny, I find the same with men here in Guadeloupe. Basic politeness and they follow you to your car asking if they can ‘accompany’ you…And they don’t give up too easily. In the end it is necessary to be rude, which I don’t love, but they really don’t seem to get the message, or care about the message if the message is no thanks buddy. Some people have told me to take it as a compliment, but I just find it annoying to have to repeat myself!

  2. Allen July 31, 2012 at 11:15 #

    I know this problem. I have been told that the French don’t smile at strangers. If that’s true ( and recent experience tells me it might not just be the French ) then I’m with you in feeling that it is a shame.

    On the whole, I smile at people quite a bit. It is a great ‘ice breaker’, and like you say, when not absolutely necessary, I feel is just indicating (if nothing else) my friendliness and love for my fellow Homo Sapien.

    The other day my wife and I popped into a snack bar, and a small boy – on an adjacent table – I guess about five years, obviously took a liking to me and proceeded to say ‘Bonjour’ in my direction. At first I didn’t realise he was saying it to me, and when I did, I responded with ‘Bonjour… ca va?’ That was when I realised that he wasn’t French but was Dutch – as his mother, smiling, explained in her easily identifiable language that he should have answered ‘oui’ and not ‘no’ as he had.

    As well as returning the mother’s smile, `i smiled at the German lady on an adjacent table, who was evidently listening to our exchange, and my smile was met with a stone cold sobre facial expression which really was so unresponsive and freezing as to make me feel that by smiling at her I had somehow molested her!!!! Jeez! Get a life!

    Don’t let ’em get you down! Look, I’m smiling with you. 🙂

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