By Mira Khatib
Like any fresh immigrants embarking on a new journey my family had lots of expectations, dreams and fears not sure what we will find. Now that we are back in the Middle East I wanted to share some of my family’s experience of living in Canada as it is something worth writing about.
Our first day out in Toronto streets we walked around breathing in fresh air, admiring greenery, sky scrapers and being part of bustling streets filled with lively people was refreshing. As we didn’t know our way around and because we thought it is worth experiencing we decided to try the public transportation system and took the bus, something we wouldn’t be caught dead doing back home.
People seemed very friendly as they smiled and said their hellos; all part of the Canadian culture, something so foreign to most of us Arabs, we smiled back and took our seats trying to make sense of the map in our hands (a time before the invention of GPS). A young blond woman noticed our dilemma and asked us where we were headed. She told us not to worry as she would show us the way, feeling relieved that we won’t get lost she started up a conversation asking questions about us, and seemed genuinely interested…if it wasn’t from jet lag and mere exhaustion from long travels the day before we would have grown suspicious as to why this complete stranger even cares?
Finally we reached our destination, but to our utter shock the lady went off the bus with us and walked all the way to the location we were looking for, innocently enough I asked, “you’re going there too?” she replied, “ Oh no, I just came to show you the way.” My husband and I were lost for words; we didn’t understand why a complete stranger would go out of their way to help us find our destination. We thought what a unique and wonderful woman to do that for us, we were amazed and humbled.
But after days, weeks, and months turning to years we learned that being friendly and nice to people; strangers maybe or not, is just a way of life in most of Canada. People greet you in elevators, stop you on streets and have a chat, help you out if in need, and almost always show a smile; they show you that they see the person you are and appreciate your presence.
Of course it took some getting used to, coming from the Arab world we are programmed to assume the worst when someone smiles or says hello or even worse start up a conversation; automatically our defense antenna rises as to why this person is talking to me and what does he want? Conspiracy theory is a built in mechanism in most Arabs and we think that there has to be something behind this “Hello”.
Slowly yet surely we started to initiate our own smiles and hellos with strangers and make people feel appreciated even in just an elevator ride, and you know what? It felt great. To be able to communicate with another person and put a smile on their face, with a simple good morning or wishing them a great day made us feel like we are good people…friendly people, wanting nothing in return.
Now we are back in the Middle East, and I know that we are generally a generous population, teaching our children to be kind and respectful of others, yet with simple things like “hellos and goodbyes” we don’t do as we preach, we keep to ourselves and count the seconds till that elevator door opens as the silence is so awkward. Would it be so difficult not to be stingy with our greetings and smiles without seeming suspicious? On the contrary we warn our children of such show of friendly emotion, of course it is wise to teach our children about dangers of strangers, but we also must teach them that it is OK to be nice. Our culture is built on high morals, ethics and good deeds, we just need to have a little bit more faith in others and show our children that we too are friendly people… we just need to show it more often and in the right way.
Wishing all our readers a great day ahead.
Photo credit: jeff.smith / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)