When I was thirteen my parents moved our family to a small town in Switzerland for a year while they taught at a nearby university. One big, immediately palpable cultural difference between Murten (the Swiss town) and Berkeley (where I grew up) was that in Murten, strangers smiled and said hello to one another. Not sure if it was a small-town thing, or a Swiss thing, but I remember thinking that it was really nice that everyone smiled and said hello to each other and that it was a dependable thing. Here, on the other hand, not so much. There is a lot of eye-contact aversion and awkward one-way smiles among strangers. Saying good morning to someone or smiling at a stranger and you risk getting snubbed.
Smiling is such a simple gesture. It takes so little effort but can go so far. Many studies suggest that smiling actually works to make folks happier, and if that’s not an added bonus, well I don’t know what is. Since that year in Switzerland I got into the practice of smiling at strangers and saying hello, or buenos dias when I pass neighbors on the street here at home, and I think it makes me a happier human.
I saw this little ‘smile’ reminder on the sidewalk and loved it. It also reminded me that as much as I love social media, there is nothing quite like the warmth of a genuine smile coming from a stranger. So take a few seconds to smile at strangers today, yes? You never know what this small gesture may bring.