A few days back, I mentioned that it's not customary to smile here as a matter of course. People walk down the street with their faces neutral, which a lot of the time looks like scowling. When you walk into a place of business, whether it is a cafe, a department store, or the airport check-in line, you are not greeted with American pleasantries: "Hi. How may I help you?" Instead, you get "Dime" (DEE-may), which loosely translated means "Tell me." It's not rude, it's a cultural thing, but it's far more abrupt than my genteel Southern ears are accustomed to.
Last night, I wanted to make some coconut lentil soup, which is one of my most favorite comfort foods. I wrote out my list and headed to the grocery store. I found all the ingredients I needed except for the coconut milk, which is integral to the recipe. I tentatively walk up the the guy in the produce department:
"Usted tiene leche de coco?" (Do you have coconut milk?). He walks me over to the shelf with the bottled coconut milks, which aren't what you use for cooking. So, I whip out my phone and type in to Google Translate, and I say,
"Lo siento, leche de coco en una lata." (Sorry, coconut milk in a can.). At this point, he rolls his eyes and takes me 3 aisles over to the spice aisle and points,
After I grabbed a few cans of the milk, I headed to check out and I see a woman at the register who had helped me before. I say "Hola" and smile because I recognize her, and she scans my groceries and asks me if I have a smaller bill to use for paying. I stop smiling, say "No, es todo yo tengo" (No, it's all I have), collect my groceries and leave.
So this morning , when I walked in to the coffee shop across from school--where I've been exactly once before--and the woman behind the counter remembered my order and handed it to me with a smile, I almost fell to the ground with gratitude.
I've decided to make it a point to go there every morning that we have classes for my morning cuppa and to smile back.