BETWIXT & BETWEEN

By Olga Sorokina

(FROM ARNIC Observer_Vol 1_Issue 2

ALL OF US FACE some challenges when we come to a new country. For me the biggest challenge was getting used to year-round smiling faces.

In my country, we don’t smile as often as people do in the U.S. We smile when we really mean it. For a few years people asked me why I was mad all the time. I didn’t understand what they meant or why they said it. Then it got to me: I don’t have a smiley face 24/7. It’s not as big of a struggle today as it was five years ago, but it is still something I face every day.

Wherever I go (stores, banks, etc.) in America people almost always smile. I was really tired of these fake smiles and I didn’t even notice how much I was used to seeing these meaningless smiles every day.

I met somebody I know in the elevator. The woman was silent and didn’t say a word during our ride (no usual “How are you?” with a wide smile). That was the first time I realized that it feels weird and uncomfortable not getting that “fake smile,” but I didn’t give it much of a thought at the time.

The second time I faced it was when I went through an airport security check. The security guards spoke in a very grumpy way and that’s when it hit me: Wouldn’t it be better if they were smiling and polite?! I’m sure that would make the beginning of my trip more enjoyable. And then another thought: “What? Wait! You just said it yourself you don’t like when people smile when they don’t mean it!” I was confused….

The Department of Motor Vehicles was the worst of my non-smiling experiences. As soon I walked into the DMV, the receptionist gave me a gloomy look and continued flirting with a co-worker. In about 10 minutes she finally looked at me and asked what I wanted with an annoyed face like I was a child, who pulled her skirt and demanded attention. By the way, the whole 10 minutes I was standing quietly on the side.

Then I got yelled at for standing in the wrong line. When I finally got into the right line, a woman who worked there asked me: “Do you have all the documents ready? If not, get on the side. Don’t slow the process down!” Are you kidding me?! Slow down the process? I had been in that office for about an hour and just found the right line! The line seemed to never end! And now she was saying I was slowing down the process! I took in a deep breath and said that I had all the documents ready. I couldn’t wait to leave that place.

It definitely would have been helpful to hear a “please” or “thank you.” And that’s when I remembered the words of my aunt: “Keep in mind! After you live for a while in another country you won’t feel at home, not in the country you were born and grew up in, and not in a country where you migrated to….”

That is so true. Living in Ukraine I didn’t know any better than serious faces all around me. I came to the U.S. where everybody is smiling most of the time. Now I feel like I’m in need of fake smiles, which I don’t want to see. Paradox! I keep wondering: Is there a middle ground and if there is, how do I find it?!

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