Why Do Strangers Smile at Me?

“Why do strangers smile at you all the time? It’s very strange.”

This was a question posed to me by my Japanese student who had recently moved to Canada.

Well, being Canadian myself, I am often guilty of doing this. 😊

In fact, sometimes we’ll even say “hello” and “have a nice day” to complete strangers.

I thought I’d share my answer here with you in case you have the same question:

I began by telling her that here in the West, and especially with Canadians, we want you to feel welcome. We want to show you that you are in a happy, safe place. That despite being strangers, we share a common humanity. That we both find ourselves in this beautiful land (wherever we are) and we have that in common.

Plus, it is simply our way of being very polite. 😊

Does this make sense to you?

She appreciated this insight, and then said to me: “But, you realize that in Japan, if we DON’T do this, it is out of respect for you?”

Yes! We agreed. In general, the Japanese are more “reserved” (a new word for her), and very respectful.

So, some of us smile to show respect and others don’t smile to show respect.

Oh, if only other differences in this world were this easy to understand and overcome!

Let me know: What other questions about cultural differences would you like me to answer?

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