Dale Says

June 21, 2012

Greeting People with a Smile

Filed under: Colorful Characters — Dale @ 11:02 am

Peter Chang was in my memoir writing class, and he turned out to be one of my favorite students. He’s in his 70’s and was a college professor in Shanghai before he immigrated to the U.S. where his inadequate language skills forced him to change professions. He worked the rest of his career as a bookkeeper in a Chinatown business.

Peter always called me “Mr. Dale” and told me I was a “very good teacher,” which was a high compliment coming from the professor. He also told me that because of his language problems, he only understood “20-25%” of what I was teaching in the classes, so I slowed down my lectures and went over the material with Peter individually after the other students left the classroom.

It turns out that Peter had already written his memoirs, and he gave me an autographed copy as a gift during the final class. It’s something I will always treasure.

Peter’s memoirs trace his career in China, his family, his travels, and the good and bad experiences he had after immigrating to the U.S. There are some touching chapters. The one titled “Greeting People with a Smile” points out some of the differences in culture Peter experienced in the U.S.

“When I first arrived in U.S., there were only a few cars parked in the residential districts, and pedestrians were even fewer. One day I met a stranger on the street. He smiled and greeted me friendly with “good morning!’ and ‘hello!’ I had learned these greetings well before I came here. However, when confronted by the westerner, I became nervous and didn’t know what to do. I could only make a nod and hasten to pass by. When days went on, I realized that I had been impolite. Since I had now immigrated to U.S., I should follow the local customs and respect other people with manners. But as new immigrants, we had many problems to solve; problems like finding jobs, finding places to live, and getting our children in school. Those are heavy burdens, and I realized it would be difficult to immediately greet people with a smile or communicate with strangers. But we were now in this country to stay, so we needed to learn and to adapt the American customs and traditions. Greeting people with a smiling face was only one of them.

I did learn to smile at strangers, and I discovered that a smile is really a miracle medicine. It has cured headaches for me and lightened my life, and I have now learned to greet people with a smile. When you smile, the good fortune follows!”

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