I’m in the OC today, where even the airport looks a little too new and shiny to be real… the schedule was a little too close for a wandery approach to lunch, and the hotel restaurant is too expensive even if my company feeds me. I popped across the street for a quick sandwich.
On entering the shop, the man at the counter smiled broadly and greeted me. I smiled broadly back, and ordered my sandwich. He smiled more broadly, and said, with far more warmth than in a typical human interaction,
“You have a nice smile.”
The only possible response, it seems, when someone compliments my smile, is for me to smile larger.
That delighted the man… who asked my name, and then complimented me on my “very good name.”
I had a momentary flashback at the keyword phrase “good name.” So many of my interactions in Nepal last year began with the simple question, “What is your good name?” And, to this day, those words are like a red pill that instantly transports me to a faraway place.
I thought also of so many years ago, before I’d ever traveled outside the US, when I was a regular at a Thai restaurant near my old office. Over a long number of visits, I grew fond of Chai, the restaurant’s host. One dinnertime, in an unusual candid exchange, Chai said, “With a smile like yours, you must go to Thailand. There, everybody smiles. Here, nobody smiles. No one there would believe that you’re an American.”
But, I snapped myself back to reality and the present. Orange County and the sandwich-maker. He went on — mostly to himself, and perhaps a little to me — “What a nice smile. You are a good person,” as he handed me my sandwich. ”See you tomorrow, Sara… very nice smile,” he said, as I turned to head out of the shop.
As I walked back across the sleep to my temporary overnight home, memories of the close openness of the trekking life flooded back to me. I’ve always had thinner boundaries, when it comes to meeting and connecting with people… I am quick with honesty, and I have a difficult time not answering peoples’ questions openly (or, more accurately, I’m completely unskilled at it).
I am two cliches in one sentence: I wear my heart on my sleeve, and I am a totally open book.
Somehow, those characteristics that sometimes make me so out of place here “at home” help me feel so very “at home” when I am away. I am at my most at home in far away, wild places where I’m surrounded by other curious, unhurried people moving at the pace of their own heartbeats or the rhythm of the sunrise and sunset.
I could have argued with the sandwich-maker, that just because I have a “nice smile,” doesn’t mean that I am a “good person.” But what would that achieve? And really, I’d rather just accept both compliments as they are. Perhaps the sandwich-man can tell who is a good person based on their smile. Who am I to argue, or judge?
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