Names, Faces and the Power of a Smile

Alfredo & Conchita
Conchita and Alfredo from my local mini-mart – Kiosko.

I’ve written this before, during my time in Asia, but I truly believe the real adventure in traveling is getting to know the people of an area. Temples, pyramids, countrysides are all good, but fade for me next to the cultures and attitudes that shape a difference, even from town to town, let alone country to country. Each presents its own challenge in understanding and getting through whatever barriers there are to reaching connection.

Don, my only American friend, and a regular at Costenos.

In a tourist destination, like Manzanillo, one of the biggest hurtles is getting past the fact that normally someone from the United States will be leaving in short order. There is no need or desire to get to know you because you’ll be gone soon. Of course, for me, this is an anathema. I just try harder to relate.

The beautiful Sandy, who makes a mean cookies and cream smoothie.

Wherever I’ve been I’ve used the same tactics. However, that makes me sound strategic, but this all comes very naturally. I don’t pull out the weapons of social exchange, I just seem to glide right into these three things.


Me and Margarita, whose has just given me a head massage in this picture.

People like to hear their names. Whatever my profession or business has been, I’ve strived to learn the names of acquaintances, customers and even customer service personnel on the phone, whom I hope I’ll never have to talk to again. I always ask for names, repeating them back (especially if they are in another language) and using it the next time I see them. At the end of a good phone call with someone I’m hoping will solve some problem of mine, I always ask their name and thank them for helping me. More often than not, they are startled but appreciative, as are the cashiers, servers and managers whose names I’m able to remember. It’s worth the effort, and it humanizes the people you interact with and pulls you into their world.  Well worth the effort.


It is true that humans tend not to look into the faces of peoples and cultures they’re not familiar with. Big mistake. Not only does this bad habit automatically separate people, but it robs us of so much information and experience.

Alfredo &Brian
Alfredo’s little brother Brian also works at the Kiosko.

Raising your eyes to a new face that passes you on your walk to the plaza or as you explore the surroundings of your temporary home on a pleasant beach, can only enrich your experience. There will be times when the other person doesn’t acknowledge your greeting or even resents it, but those are few. An automatic reaction of “That jerk!” doesn’t do you any good and, in fact, just serves to close down the part inside which has tried to open up. Brush it off and move on, but don’t, under any circumstances, let that send you running back to your old habit of moving through the mass of humanity we daily encounter without making any connections. You will truly be the richer for your effort.

And the next time you recognize a familiar face, try nodding to the person behind it and see if you don’t get a nod in response. That’s a big win!

IMG_0878 (2)
The only picture I’ve managed to snap of Rosie, the owner of Costenos and my landlady, with Sandy.


No matter where you are in the world, whether home or afar, a smile is truly your most powerful possession. With a grin: you’ll be forgiven your lack of language skills in a foreign country, assisted through nearly any problem, make surprising friends and soothe the savage beast in almost any situation. There are, of course, exceptions but you’ll find a sincere smile will get you through almost any travail.

I have acquaintances who instantly put on a grim face when faced with a problem, especially someone who will not instantly bend to their will. Big mistake. Find that place inside you that realizes that “This too shall pass” and try a smile. I’ll bet most of the time it serves you much better than that grimace that lives inside us all. In traveling, it is a much better option as you’ll find most societies don’t regard your troubles (coming from the Western world) as much of a problem. You may just find that they are right.

I have found that smiling at an unknown person I pass on the street not only makes me feel better but helps that person have a better day, too. In much of the world, the older local women often aren’t noticed at all and it almost breaks my heart how happy they are to be acknowledged – with a smile or greeting. If you remember their names, you’ve given them a gift of recognition whether or not you know it.

As I’ve mentioned, these three things are not just good for exploring the world, but also at home. I can’t tell you how many of my dining companions have shown irritation for my penchant for engaging with servers, but it pays me much more dividends than the reserve some many people regard as appropriate.

To hell with appropriate reserve.

Valentina, who smiled without hesitation. Oh, to be like that again.

Author: Kathy Lynn Hall

I've embarked on the lifestyle of vagabond as a solitary woman and I'm excited about sharing my experiences with you.

2 thoughts on “Names, Faces and the Power of a Smile”

  1. hi Kathy, I was thinking about your post. As a reserved person, (not shy, but not trying to meet people) I feel you might be putting yourself at risk if you smile and greet men unless they work where you are, or they are with a lady you know. It’s ok to smile and greet a lady but if you see a man on the street, ignore him. Don’t make eye contact unless he speaks to you first. Then reply and lose interest just that fast. Too friendly with men will be interpreted as sexual interest. Here in Richmond people on a walking path greet each other. In New York City they don’t, and my friend who lived in NY for 30 years feels people are invading her space when they say hello and talk to her if she’s out walking. Even here, where it’s not too bad, you still can only smile and say hello to the girls you meet, for your own safety.. That guy you ignore is probably a jerk, at best, and at worst, maybe a criminal . So who cares if he thinks you’re friendly?

  2. Hi, Chris. I really appreciate you taking the time to express your ideas on this. This is the biggest response I’ve ever had in my years of blogging.

    Most of what I’m saying here relates to my travels rather than being in the States, where unfortunately a simple hello is often a burden to the other person. But I did mention servers, in particular, because I see this sort of attitude and it bugs me -“They are just the person who brings my food.” No, they are the PERSON who brings your food.

    I was raped as a child so I have a built-in radar for appropriateness in this area, but I find that most men aren’t predatory. It was a complete stranger in Cambodia, a tuk tuk driver, who drove his vehicle between me and two men who were approaching me and told me to jump in. He literally saved me from being mugged. So, caution is good, but fear is not, in my humble opinion.

    I really don’t care what others think when I interact anymore, but as a traveling American I try to be something of an ambassador. Reserve is only bad if it’s stopping you from doing something you want to do. I do understand that people are different and some would rather not engage. This is really about encouraging those that want the experience but may be uncomfortable with reaching out.

    Again, thanks so much for commenting!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.