“Are you queuing for the toilet as well?” I asked the bald-headed man in the red shirt. What a weird question to ask at a height of 30,000 feet, I thought. “No, I’m just eating a pretzel,” he said, munching on the German delicacy he had probably obtained before we took off.
And then, out of nowhere and perhaps due to his slightly inebriated state, he dropped some wisdom that hit as hard as it would have if it had fallen the entire 30,000 feet back to earth: “The language of the world is a smile.”
He continued: “My university professor taught me that ten years ago. It’s the only thing I remember from college, to be honest. Just…smile. No matter where you are, people always understand a smile.”
In some countries, people shake their head when they mean “Yes” and nod when they mean “No.” In the UK, what constitutes a peace hand sign elsewhere can go for “Screw you!” Not every gesture is universal — but a smile? That suggests joy, openness, and a well-meaning attitude everywhere around the globe.
In times when our words miss their targets more frequently than ever, any clear expression that can do without them is worth a lot. Kindness is a language we all speak from the day we are born, and a smile is the greeting that can get us off on the right foot with almost anyone.
When you smile, doors will magically open and bridges will build themselves. Just…smile.