Smiling and Diversity

As I write this article about diversity it puts a smile on my face. As an immigrant from the Netherlands, I assist new immigrants every day in their career pathway at the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians in Philadelphia.

Although I visited the United States many times, my relocation to the U.S. came with many culture shocks. Growing up in the Netherlands we had a lot of American influences; TV, movies, music and food. My new American life is totally different and not at all like I expected from what I saw on TV or heard in songs. There was a lot I had to learn and understand about my new country, the United States of America.

For instance, the supermarkets in the Netherlands are smaller. I could buy my weekly groceries in the supermarket in about twenty minutes. In the U.S.  I could spend hours shopping because decisions were harder since there were so many choices to make either in the cereal, ice cream or soda aisle.

Greetings were another dilemma. In the Netherlands we give three air kisses and traditionally in the U.S. one kiss to family or close friends. The rest of the people we shake hands or hug. I have become the best hugger. Also, doggy bags are offered even if you do not own a dog because the portions are double the size than in Europe.

“When I moved here I had the European “neutral face” and directness in my daily conversations. Very soon I found out I had to change in order to fit in because people did not always understand me.”

The most important difference I found is in friendliness. When I moved here I had the European “neutral face” and directness in my daily conversations. Very soon I found out I had to change in order to fit in because people did not always understand me. When you great people in the U.S. you smile and it is very common to ask how are you doing? I found out that my answer had to be short and simple, great or awesome and give a smile back. Regardless of what kind of day I was having.

I adapted smiling because I found out it is correct: When you’re smiling the whole world smiles with you. It gave me a great feeling to smile and get a smile back. Every behavioral psychologist can tell you that each time you smile you brain will throw a little feel good party. Dopamine, endorphins and serotonin start to work.

“As a neutral face is expected during the interview in the Netherlands, In some African or Asian cultures it is not common to have direct eye contact. It shows respect if you look away or down. Looking away or a neutral face during an interview can be easy misread here in the U.S.”

And according to a group of British researchers from Hewlett Packard one smile can generate the same level of brain stimulation as up to 2,000 chocolate bars. Unfortunately I did not found any information how you could lose weight with smiling.

In assisting immigrants in their career pathway I also have to explain that smiling is expected in a job interview. This is not common in every culture. For example if you smile in the Netherlands during an interview, it could mean that you are under the influence, kooky or you being flirtatious.

As a neutral face is expected during the interview in the Netherlands, In some African or Asian cultures it is not common to have direct eye contact. It shows respect if you look away or down. Looking away or a neutral face during an interview can be easy misread here in the U.S.

“In the United States it is important to smile, it shows confidence and friendliness.”

Smiling during an interview shows that you are confident. Sometimes it is already hard to communicate in another language than your own native language for our participants. It is also expected that you learn new nonverbal skills other than your native nonverbal skills at the same time. I found out that this can be hard and takes some practice and time until it feels comfortable.

In the United States it is important to smile, it shows confidence and friendliness. One main reason that we smile in the United States is not only because we are friendly and full of confidence but it also dates back to the history of our ancestors from the Old Country. In the old days our Irish forefather wanted to be friends with the German neighbors since language was a barrier the best thing they could do was to greet with a smile. This smile we still continue to do today. I believe the smile is a big part of us and our culture because of the diversity in the United States. As I complete this article on just a few things about diversity, my smile is still there as big as ever…

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Welcoming Center