Friday, January 21, 2011

Go out and Share Your Smile

When it was clear that the Mr. and I were going to move to our small town a few years ago, I decided that if I had to live with the disadvantages of a small town, I wanted the small town advantages too, particularly the small town charms of friendliness and warmth.

Yeah, I forgot that I was moving to a German small town. I soon noticed that I was going to get neither friendliness nor warmth from strangers in public places. In fact, I soon realized that I wasn’t even going to get eye contact when we passed each other in our small town streets. Here, in my safe circle of readers, I’m willing to say that this realization annoyed me and occasionally pissed me off. If I had to live with small towns stores that closed at lunch time each day and by 2pm on Saturdays, I wanted at least a short greeting on the street. I mean, really.

After a few months of fuming I decided to take some of the good elements from my corporate job and implement them as part of my own behavioral change experiment. Those are big words for the following: I changed my attitude and became what I wanted from others. I stopped letting the majority annoy me and started to both buck the German reserved nature with strangers and to greet others on the street with a slight smile and a short greeting like “hallo” (hello) or “guten tag” (good day).

To say that my behavior confused many, startled some, and annoyed a few wouldn’t quite capture the reactions I’ve enjoyed. When I first started my experiment my ‘hit rate’ for positive responses of any sort – for example a confused “wie bitte?” (pardon me?) – was less than 25% percent. But I’m quite proud to report that over the past few years I’ve gotten more and more successful. There was one very fine day when I took a half-hour walk around our small town – another advantage I demand – when I soooo close to 100% success rate. There is the charming man I call “Ole Man Town-Name” that I’ve greeted so often that we recognize each other on sight, giving him a chance to prepare his return “Guten Tag.” Until you see this elderly gentleman square his shoulders at my approaching frame, anticipating my greeting and his socially dictated requirement to respond, you really haven’t seen change in action.

Yet, I’ve also experienced joy and appreciation during my experiment: a tired mother of four energetic children all under the age of 10 whose face lit with a smile; an adorable toddler who shouted out “HALLO!” making his family members and me laugh together; a springy man in his 40s who gave me one of the broadest smiles I’ve seen when returning my greeting; the elderly woman who recently stopped in her tracks to thank me and the Mr. profusely for saying hello, for being kind, for being respectful.

Most importantly I’ve gained the most: it doesn’t matter how I feel or what my day has been like, after a walk full of greeting strangers I feel good. I feel good about our decision to move to this small town and our life here in Germany-land. Most importantly, I feel damn good about myself.

The point of this entry is: whatever it going on, be bigger than it - go out and share your smile.

Still not inspired? Get some inspiration here and here.



Annie said...

Thanks so much for linking to I'm Contagious! My grandfather was from Steinbach. Random coincidence?

Please don't hesitate to let me know how I can support you in your smiling efforts.!

Kim Egerton said...

Hey Nic, I recall this from my time in Germany, especially when I was out running or hiking and me naturally saying hi - here in NZ you always say hi to each out of acknowledgement. You are right about being bigger and a smile is always contagious I think.

Anonymous said...

As I knew the story before I was already inspired and now I try to do the same in our little "Dorf" :D

Guten Tag - Cathrin

Pickles and Onions said...

Thanks for all the feedback friends! I'd love to hear what your experiments bring you :)

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