Armed for Tea

It’s common in some cultures to greet strangers with a scowl.

Sometimes this is considered to be socially correct. Sometimes it’s a means of displaying one’s manliness or strength. Sometimes it’s a well-honed response to being bitch-slapped by history.

Whatever the reason, the result is missed opportunities. Outsiders end up assuming the culture is an unfriendly one and miss out on all the wonderful things the scowlers might offer the world.

Some people, regardless of their culture, respond to new information in the same way as the scowlers. Rather than viewing newness and unfamiliarity as the opportunity it is, they see nothing but potential trouble.

“Uh oh, here’s comes something I don’t yet understand,” they say. “Run for cover, and complain until you get there!”

Other people, those who tend to be more successful over the long-haul, view change as an opportunity. Rather than intellectually scowling at anything different from the status quo, they smile warmly at the new concept and welcome it into their brains.

“Greetings!” they say. “Can I offer you some tea? Tell me about yourself!”

Unfortunately, although most people would benefit from leaning toward the latter attitude, most of us don’t. Not enough to establish a truly open international mental society, at least. We’re still more untrusting and closed-off than not.

This in mind, consider the other person in the first example above: the one who is greeted with a scowl and then walks off without investigating beyond the unfriendly reception. Are they any better for having leaped to judgement, avoiding a difficult interaction?

I would argue the best way to open up more doors and reach out more hands for shaking is to be a person who receives scowls with a smile, and who goes on to show untrusting people there’s nothing to worry about.

Change and novelty can be mutually beneficial and doesn’t have to be scary for those who cleave to tradition or sameness. But in order for newness to be received as a friend, not an invader, those who herald it must be armed for a tea party, not a war.

Update: February 20, 2017

I wrote this piece while living in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, and the owner of the little convenience store a few blocks away would scowl at me every time I walked in the door. I dedicated myself to making him smile, and though it took over a month of visiting and buying something each day, he eventually did, and then introduced me to his family. It was a sudden shift, but apparently a common one. The locals take longer to warm up to people and show any emotion beyond rugged sternness, but one that levy is breached, it’s a torrent of good-tidings and friendliness.