I still remember my first trip to the US very well. I was 27, out on my own, so far away from home for the first time in life. I had lived in a hostel before, but that is not the same because a) you can go home if you want, b) you have friends to talk to and c) you don’t have to worry about what you are going to eat for the next meal.
So there I was at the Washington DC international airport, feeling lost in a sea of strangers, kicking myself for having made the decision to come, missing the husband and the family already and at the same time trying to figure out which train to take to go to which terminal. Then something happened. Somebody smiled at me. Another person smiled and yet another said they liked my handbag. And I’m thinking “Wow! These people don’t even know me! Americans must be really friendly people!”. Because that is not what you normally see in India. I mean, if you don’t know someone, you don’t smile at them while passing them by on the street or compliment them. And you definitely don’t discuss weather with them. I don’t know why we are that way. Maybe because there is so many of us that if we start smiling at everyone we pass on the street, we will probably have stiff mouth muscles by the end of the day. Maybe it is a defense mechanism against the big bad world. By staying aloof, we make sure we don’t trust too soon, and don’t get deceived by strangers.
However, getting smiles and compliments from strangers did make me feel better that day. It gave me the comfort that regardless of the awkwardness of my situation, I still somehow fit in.
More on my first visit in the next post..