You know what makes my day?
A friendly smile from a stranger.
That might sound strange, but no matter what kind of mood I’m in, no matter what else is going on, that can always put a smile on my face. And here, in American Samoa, you’ll find me smiling everyday! It’s one of the hazards of living around the friendliest people on Earth!
When I was a kid, I was the one who smiled and waved to complete strangers, just to see them smile back. As a teenager, I began to figure out that not many people did this and I got fewer smiles in return, mostly just vacant stares or the bird. By the time I was an adult, I had all but given up my habit of trying to bring a smile to the faces of passers-by. I kept my smiles for family and close friends and found joy through other ways.
On the Road
When we first moved to American Samoa, I was confused and frustrated by all the people honking at my driving. I’m a decent driver. I try to be considerate and follow the rules of the road. I felt like I was figuring out the Samoan road etiquette, but inevitably, every time I got in the car, I knew I’d be getting honked at. A couple weeks after our move here, a friend took me for a drive to show me the island and she explained that the honk is used differently here than on the Mainland. Beep, beep can mean a simple “Hello” or it’s the way one driver signals to another that they’re stopping to let the other driver onto the road. Very rarely is the honk used negatively or aggressively.
In the States, when I would go for a run along a stretch of open, country road, I would get the occasional honk of unwanted attention from the opposite sex and it always surprised me, making me jump, and leaving me feeling annoyed. Now when I go running, I know to expect plenty of honks, not the cat-calls from the States, but genuine, “Way to go!” and “Keep it up!” honks from friendly drivers. They’re like my own personal cheering squad.
After 20+ years of stifling my natural friendliness, I finally get to embrace it! I drive down the road and smile and wave to everyone I see. What’s crazy is, no matter who they are, or what they’re doing, they take the time to smile and wave back. And I’m not talking about the stiff, awkward smiles of people who think I’m crazy or obnoxious, I’m talking about the light-up-their-faces, full-tooth smiles and burning-calories type of waves. Man, woman, child, bratty teenage girl, too-cool teenage boy: They all return the greeting.
The Samoan people love our kids, specifically their blonde hair! We’ll be out and complete strangers will walk up to us and ask if they can take selfies with our boys. By the end of our two years here, Holden may very well be a celebrity because of all the pictures that have been taken with him and his shiny, golden hair. People ask if it’s real and want to touch it, and he’s usually a good sport about it.
The people here are so generous, too. Kip will go wandering down the beach from us to play with some local kids and always come back with bags of chips and cans of soda. When we apologize for our beggar child and try to give the charitable gifts back, everyone refuses, saying, “No, no! Let the baby have it. He’s so cute!” Kip hates being called a baby, but of course always accepts the gifts. Now, he just expects people to give him food and has begun asking for it. We’re trying to break him of this bad habit, but then wherever we go he ends up making a new friend, or ten, and coming away with snacks.
One of the first things we noticed about our new island home, the friendliness is truly contagious, and we’ve caught it,. I’m afraid when we move away from our island, we will suffer from reverse culture shock. We will be expecting everyone to be as friendly and kind as our neighbors are here, instead, we will probably meet with cold-shoulders and middle-fingers. But until then, we will keep waving and making friends with everyone we meet. The kids will deal with their semi-celebrity status and maybe Kip will even learn to appreciate the endearing name, “Baby”.
There’s enough friendliness on this tiny, South Pacific island to go around the whole world and back again. So, I am passing it on to you, in hopes that you will pass it to someone else. Today, let’s make the world a brighter place!