Smile, it’s universal

I’ve always been a smiley person. Seriously, smiling is an almost automatic reaction when I make eye contact with someone. It can melt a stern look, comfort shy eyes and sparks a simple yet warm connection with another human being. AND, it’s truly universal. I am horrible at learning languages (ask any of my language teachers or former foreign flatmates) but smiling, I’m top of the class. I’m learning that it’s one of my comparative advantages as I travel the world.

Ever since I moved to Europe in 2008, I’ve been experimenting with smiling at strangers.  I received a few double takes in the streets of Barcelona and got a few confused looks in trams in Zurich but overall, the smiling thing really works. I expanded the smiling experiment to Asia. In the jungle of Angkor Wat, I cycled about 27km (it took 2 days for my legs to retain consciousness but that’s another story) and randomly interacted with tons of locals and tourists alike. I started shooting silent smiles at people on passing bicycles and tuk tuks, even when passing by people in crowded temples. Some of the tourists looked startled at first then flashed a smile back however the Cambodians, they were naturals. They smiled with their mouths and their eyes in an instant.

A Smiler in Cambodia

A Smiler in Cambodia

I also rented a bike to tour around Gili Trawangan island, off the coast of Bali Indonesia. The smile experiment was a huge success; a quick smile usually turned into a friendly conversation. In fact, smiles struck up so many conversations that I only had time to bike half the island before needing a mango lassi to cool off.

I’ve thrown the smile experiment into full throttle here in South America.  Smiles here are instant. I enjoyed a local bus ride recently in the mining city of Potosi, Bolivia. Being a high altitude mining city, one would think that the people might be as grim as the air but it couldn’t be farther from the truth.  Whilst on the bus, the woman behind me started singing along to the latest Bolivian pop song blasting from the communal speakers, I immediately turned around to offer my hand as a microphone. At first she looked startled but within a split second she shot me a wide grin, laughed then continued singing.

When I smile at people walking down the street,  95% of the time I get wide grins back- some of them toothless yet wide. Even babies tightly clad to their mother’s backs are natural smiling professionals and you can imagine that their innocent smiles are enough to warm anyone’s heart.

Peruvian smiler

Peruvian smiler

Don’t get me started on how quickly Colombians smile back. Colombians may be the friendliest people on Earth. Seriously. In the past three weeks, a simple smile has led to invitations to people’s homes, trying new desserts in the streets of Medellin, a city tour in the back of an antique jeep and a 45 minute conversation on a Cartagena sidewalk.

To  fellow travellers and expats, when you are away from home and in a new environment it just takes a few facial muscles to allow a window of opportunity to connect with a stranger…..I dare you to try the smile experiment and share your stories!! (insert big smile here).


Smilers in Buenos Aires

Smilers in Buenos Aires


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3 Responses to “Smile, it’s universal”

  1. smiling reading this xo

  2. Mariana Says:
    March 9, 2013 at 3:31 am

    Just keep smiling !!!
    “The world is like a mirror; frown at it, and it frowns at you. Smile and it smiles, too”
    ? Herbert Samuels

  3. The Global Sponge The Global Sponge Says:
    March 10, 2013 at 3:43 am

    Glad to spread smiles across the world Roch.

    Great quote Mariana! I know you are a big believer in the smile experiment too. You’re a natural.

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