Americans are apparently somewhat notorious for smiling, compared to other cultures. I was warned by several Francophiles not to expect big cheery grins in Paris, and those warnings proved useful. What I did get, when I walked into any shop, approached the information desk at the subway, or started my day at the conference, was a hearty, “Bonjour!”
The hotel desk clerk said it as I wandered by, the lady in the breakfast dining parlor said it to every guest, the guide who took us around Versailles said it when he met us, though he also offered a friendly handshake. My sister had been told the same thing: Don’t smile your way through France. You will probably look foolish, and for sure you will look American.
One explanation for the Smiling American is that ours is a wonderfully diverse land. Fewer than 10 percent of those dwelling in France are immigrants, and about half of those immigrants are from neighboring European countries. The US, by contrast, has
the largest immigrant population in raw numbers of any nation (about 47 million compared to France’s 6 million), and those folks total more than 14 percent of the whole. Then too, our immigrants are from Everywhere.
Add to that how often Americans move–on average, 11 times throughout life, compared to the Europeans’ four times–and the great cultural diversity of even our native-born citizens (didn’t your mother bake a chocolate potato cake every year on March 17 in honor of St. Patrick? My mom did.), and we’ve ended up with a situation where it can be pretty handy to have a non-verbal signal for, “I’m not here to make trouble.”
So we smile, and I LIKE that we smile. Nearly 20 percent of French people smoke, and nearly 30 percent of their student-age population smokes. In the US, we’re at about 14 percent overall for smokers, and for college students it’s even lower. I like that too, but I didn’t realize our countries diverge on this issue until I noticed that at nearly every sidewalk cafe I passed in Paris (I passed dozens), somebody was smoking at a table.
I had a wonderful time in France, but I also came home appreciating that I no longer smell cigarette smoke at American restaurants. I smile a lot in the course of a day out here. I see tons of people in the US from all over the world and they smile at me too. We’re footloose compared to a lot of other societies, and that can mean we see a lot of different terrain in the course of American life.
It has been easy for me lately to see what’s amiss with my country, not as easy to appreciate its many good and dear qualities. A time away has helped me hit re-set in that regard, and has me smiling (like an American) a little more than I was before I went away. What do you like about where you are right now?
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I love my Starbucks people. I order a large London Fog tea (Earl Grey) and a muffin or if I am particularly hungry a scone! The service is excellently and when we exchange cash for tea— I am greeted with a genuine smile & hello!
It’s a great way to start the day!
I am one week away from my working vacation at my dog clubs show. Am getting ready to turn over a responsibility to a new person & take on a new volunteer role. A challenging role but I am happy to give it a try. Right now, I am organized.. which feels great!!
Am enjoying a peaceful morning with Beanie and Rose (corgis). Beanie has not quite forgiven me for giving her a bath yesterday. I love my time with the sisters- they are quite close & watching them interact with each other makes me smile.
All in all— a good place to be on a Sunday morning!
I avoid Starbuck’s when I’m overseas, because I know I can get it here, but I do enjoy patronizing them. I figure I might owe Starbuck’s my nephew’s life. They were about the ONLY place to offer medical benefits to part-timers 20 years ago, and nearly all of their staff was part-time. Nephew had a treatable form of cancer, but without health insurance? Not an affordable form of cancer.
I like that they ethically source, I like that they still have paper newspapers. And yes, I like their great big cups of piping hot tea, too!
Good luck with the dogs shows. It’s a marvelous thing you do…
These are eexcellent points, Grace. I’m so discouraged with our country right now that it’s often hard to remember there’s much of anything positive about it. Thanks for the reminder!
What I like about it is that my family is here.
Thaat’s true for me too, and it means a lot. This is still home, because everybody who loves me is here.
Thanks for the reminder Grace of this topic this week____There’s no place like home.I am angry at the moment with all of our politicians no matter what party they represent they have failed to unite over a very important time in history that can effect many people’s lives.The British can be stubborn and set in their ways but when our backs are against the wall we will come out shouting.Our parents and their parents strove for people’s standards of life to improve,we will not throw away what was achieved.We cannot go backwards.We are a resilient lot and we smile while we do it.We will get on with it and moan but we will get there in the end.My culture my people my home.
Brenda, it has been hard to watch Merry Olde going down this not merry at all road. I can’t help but think that the same social media bots and trolls who turned our 2016 US election into such a mud-wrestling tournament are also at work in the UK, Canada, Australia, South Africa… somebody has turned divisive politics into nasty marathon sport.
I hope the upcoming elections will see some smoothing out for you and all my friends in the UK. Enough is enough.
I like our local grocery store. It’s a chain based one state over and this particular store has only been open three years. The employees are friendly, I can find 99% of what I need and it’s one block over, and then down the street from our home.
I hate to grocery shop because I think it’s a big time waster; store are set up to get you to spend more money and divert you from what you came in for–and yes, this store does this too. But the staff makes you feel welcome, are so helpful to find something or answer a question. While I still feel like I’m wasting time, I know I have to do this chore and they make me feel okayish doing so.
That sense of *welcome* and *you belong* and *community* is lost in many places in our country. It’s funny I have found this is a GROCERY STORE but I have. 🙂
It was a big deal when my little town actually got a grocery store about five years ago. We have the smallest, most basic version of a Weis Market,but as you say–it has some version of every necessity, and a few other products too. The local high school supplies most of the cashiers, which is nice to see because we have few jobs here.
I am impervious to the grocery manipulation schemes, because I eat pretty much the same things all the time, and I’m shopping only for myself. And now that you mention it, I saw NO supermarkets in Paris. The closest thing I spotted was about the quarter the size of my local store… but then, there were all those patisseries…
I love living in the South where folks tend to look out for each other. Somebody talks about killing a cottonmouth in their backyard & my neighbor across the street picks up a box of mothballs to sprinkle around my porches to keep snakes off ‘cause he was going. I’m keeping an eye out for the folks on travel. And we all pool in together on lawn treatments & get a discount. No rules. No regs. Just being neighborly.
That is marvelous (though not for the cottonmouth). It was like that where I grew up in PA. Everybody knew all the children in the neighborhood by name, walking through somebody’s yard was no big deal, and front yard picnics were common. If you went for a walk, you got in some back-fence chatting with whoever was out and about.
I love the privacy I have living in the middle of nowhere, but it has its downsides, too.
I find most people to be nice enough, tho sometimes you run into people that seem to be having a bad day. I try to have faith that our country’s leadership will get it together and do the right thing (tho what that is apparently is quite subjective). I’m often appalled at the low voter turnout and hope the recent events will change that. I’m very glad that we don’t have smoking in public places!
The cigarette smoke was very odd. One of those subtle, “Why aren’t I at ease right now?” things, and then you realize, “Somebody is SMOKING upwind of where I’m trying to have dinner!”
In Scotland, I’m very aware of how relatively little wheelchair access they have, 700-year-old castles being difficult to retro-fit. BUT they have a lot more signage in multiple languages, far better health care…still, if I were in a wheel chair, or getting around with a cane, the typical US municipality would probably be an easier bet. And sooner or later, I will very likely BE using a cane…
I’m Canadian and I always find Americans and Canadians to invariably be friendly. And why not? We only get one chance at life so let’s be nice.
Here in Montreal we usually say “ bonjour-hi” although that can sometimes be problematic as the official language is French.
As my family lives in the US I travel there often and it’s always a joy, no matter what else is happening there.
I think Americans are friendly, on the whole, and Canadians are legendarily so. Canada has an enormous foreign-born contingent percentage-wise (one in five?), and they are, like ours, from all over, not merely from the next country over. I wonder if that makes us friendlier? I hope so.
I feel so much better now that I have cut WAY BACK on my news intake. I thank our last election for that. Without all that ugly, petty, negativity around me, it is so much easier to see and to enjoy the lovely people, places, movies, music and books that surround me.
Don’t get me wrong, I still want to know what is going on in the world, but my news intake consists of a half hour of local news in the morning and a half hour of PBS or one of the networks in the evening for world news. Although, if a re-run of THE OFFICE is on another channel – well, I’m going there. It makes me laugh and I feel good when I laugh.
I had to put some rules in place for myself fairly early in the 2016 election cycle. NO social media first or last thing in the day. No more than 30 minutes of social media total per day (which means mostly author stuff), and it’s still like tiptoeing past cesspit–the stink is unavoidable.
But that raises another difference between most of Europe and the US: They require the actual news broadcasts to be fair, balanced, and accurate (as we did until the mid-90s), PLUS they have very short election cycles, and no Citizens United turning elections into advertising cash cows.
Makes a huge difference.
Ah, I am on summer recess because I work in the public schools. I have 2 overgrown puppies who prevent me from melting into the furniture and make me laugh. I am slowly going through my pile of stuff and am determined to get rid of Moses of it. This may seem like insignificance to most people, but for me it is a delightful stretch of time. No rushing, no meetings, no worrying about missing something I don’t really want to do. Sitting outside with my iPad to work on the internet and throwing a ball for the insatiable bigger pup, sipping my morning coffee is such a delightful indulgence.
Unstructured time is a precious form of wealth, and we NEED it–to be creative, happy, and healthy. Says me, but also say the neuro-psychologists. I get kinda twitchy if I’m over-scheduled, particularly in the morning. That’s when I have a writer-brain, and I need that time for my imagination.
Glad you get summer break–you’ve earned it! (And in France, the kids go off to public school at age three–yikes!)
I like that in my small city I am never far from nature while having the benefits of city life. Our backyard abuts a small college campus on a wooded side, it is a beautiful and restful view from my bedroom window.
That sounds wonderful. I liked growing up in a college town because it meant great concerts, at least some cultural diversity, and other fun stuff (huge flower gardens, livestock barns, tennis courts…). But we also lived with a woods backed up to the yard and tons of room to roam. Was I a lucky kid or what?
I love your books!
I like the warm weather and that much of my family, including my 90+ year old mother are here. Otherwise, I admit to not being such a happy camper these days. I do try to avoid things I know will raise my blood pressure but it’s pretty hard to do a lot of the time and I’m not even on social media except to check my favorite author sites once a day.
Happy Sunday! Thank you for your great books. I love that we appreciate the individual as much as the majority in the U.S. I love the history and formal courtesy in Europe but also the fun friendliness in the U.S. I am concerned about the way the U.S. is devaluing diversity in many ways. I think that I love the way books are so encouraging and uplifting. I loved visiting Europe and Asia and one thing I respect and admire in other countries are their multi lingual capabilities. I am fully bilingual and can basically converse in two other languages so I cringe when I hear someone state “Speak English”. Welcome home. Have a blessed day! ❤️❤️❤️✉️
I love my community. I’ve lived in the same place for 26 years, and I love that I know my neighbors so well. We share our ups and downs. We look out for each other. We celebrate and commiserate with one another. And we smile, tap our horns, and wave!
I love living where people smile at each other and where we don’t smoke inside and fewer places outside. In the south and southwest where I’ve lived most of my life, most people are polite to each other most of the time. Of course, in the deep south women can be both polite and cutting at the same time – “Lord, Bless that sweet girl” (with the undertanding that she needs more than the Lord’s blessing)
I like living in a place with temperate winters, the lack of snow and bitter cold more than makes up for the blazing hot – but not super humid summers.
Thank you for sharing your experiences! Sometimes it is hard to see/focus on the good things around us. I seem to take them for granted and focus more on the negative things.
Watching the news takes a dose of wariness and courage these days, and then is often skipped for a few days to recover from the trauma of viewing the worst society has to offer. Thankfully for me, and surely for many in neighborhoods throughout our country, when I look outside my window, the view includes my ninety-seven year old neighbor being guided on her morning walk by her eighty-five year old friend. Later in the day, there is another neighbor greeting her severely disabled granddaughter at the bus stop and waving to all who pass. Young parents stroll by with their laughing, healthy children and stop to enjoy our swing and pet the friendly dog. The new mother two houses down receives dinner for her family from a number of friends, and a teen-age boy volunteers to mow our lawn. There are tragedies and atrocities aplenty, but there is by far more happiness in our world if we but look around….and even participate.
I love living in a diverse community in the middle of a big city (Chicago). I feel like I have the best of both worlds. I can walk or bike to the store, my kid’s school, the library, of even a world class museum. If I want to travel further, I have so many choices literally minutes away. My neighborhood is beautiful, friendly, full of interesting things and people.
I took for granted going to the beach as a child. I live in Michigan and between the inland lakes and the Great Lakes, there are plenty of beaches to go to. It was after visiting family in Germany, that I learned that going to the beach was usually something they did on a vacation. In fact, when booking a vacation, they would include bathing days, days spent on a beach. Most of the people I knew in my neighborhood would never consider booking a bathing day for a vacation. If the hotel had a pool, that was fine. Our vacations were not dependent on the availability of a beach.
I’m here by way of the Caribbean and I like that we smile too.