day 15: smile!

smile at a stranger

I have a great capacity to look concerned. The absolute first wrinkle I am going to get is the one left from the permanent frown of concentration on my forehead. I think a lot. And, yes, I worry a lot.

This can result in me walking around looking like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders. I’ve caught a few photos of me recently when I’m not aware of being photographed, looking positively miserable, when I’m certain I was only deep in thought or trying to puzzle something out. Add in the complexity of settling in to (and launching a business in!) a new country, and I’m going to be old and wrinkled long before my time!

But the amazing thing? Smile at someone and it doesn’t just impact them, it changes my own frame of mind.

We live very close to a city petrol station. This is great for those days when it’s after 7pm or a Sunday and I’ve forgotten to by bread or parmesan or eggs. I go in there pretty frequently to pick up just one or two things that I forgot at the supermarket. And the ladies who work in there (they’re all women for some reason) – they’re positively lovely! I smile and use my newest French words on them and they beam back at me, can’t wish me “bonne journée” enough times as I leave.

I’m certain smiling helps a lot. To look at someone and not look through them, but see them, acknowledge them, appreciate them.

I’ve started randomly smiling at people who catch my eye on the street. Only about a third of them smile back, the others duck their heads quickly looking awkward. It’s not normal to smile at strangers. I’m sure they all think I’m a little weird. But when you get a smile back? It feels good! A split second connection in the middle of a busy and full day. Maybe I’ll never see them again, or maybe the smile will become a daily thing as we both follow our normal routines and keep bumping into each other.

I am sure this is as needed in our home countries as it is overseas. But somehow it takes on a new significance as an expat. Some days the mountain of integration feels like a long and steep slog and the summit seems oh so very far away. My lack of language fluency is a heavy backpack weighing me down and I can feel awkward and out of my depth a hundred times a day.

But those smiles I get back? They say I’m welcome, they tell me I’m getting there. They remind me that really, these are just people like me, with jobs and families and sometimes-complicated lives. The differences may feel insurmountable some days but really there is no them and us. There is no foreigner and expat. We’re all people, just trying to get through the day in the best way possible, to find a way to live that is full of goodness and joy.

Today, I dare you: smile at a stranger. And mean it… !


This post is part of my 31 days to embrace expat life. I’m writing every day through October on this topic. Click on the button to see all the posts so far…

I have a few posts planned for later this month that I’d love your help with! Are you a “trailing spouse”, moving for your partner’s job? Or are you an expat parent, negotiating life overseas with children? Send me an email with your experience, tips, thoughts (only if you’re willing to let me use what you write for my posts) to: hello (at) fionalynne (dot) com.

Yesterday’s post – Discover local culture (the Vianden nut festival).

“Smile at a Stranger” print from kikki.K