Let’s give it up for the smile and nod. No matter what language you speak, or what awkward situation, the smile and nod can bring people together.
In a line for the bathroom at a portapotty, a woman, who clearly had to urinate badly, turns to me and says something in Portuguese. From the tone of voice, I imagine she says “this line is ridiculous! I’m gonna wet my pants before I get in there!” and then laughs. I smile, laugh a little and nod in agreement. I am also fed up with this line!
She smiles, I smile, we laugh. I have no idea what she said. She honestly has no idea if I understood her. But after the smile and nod, she felt like I agreed and we connected.
I hold the door for someone in Quebec. I don’t speak French. The old man, overjoyed to have a small kindness paid to him, says something kindly to me in French. I imagine he says “Thank you very much! You are so kind. Have a wonderful day” with a broad smile that seems to alight his whole face. I smile and nod, so heartened by his response.
He smiles kindly, I smile with my heart. I have no idea what he said and he honestly has no idea if I understood him. But after the smile and nod, he felt heard and cared for.
I approach a breakfast counter in Italy. The older woman at the counter sourly looks at me as I approach, not amused to be working or helping the foreigner. I order slowly “un caffè e … “ and I point to a pastry on the shelf. She asks me something in Italian, and I imagine she says “the cheese one?” and I smile as broadly and excitedly as I could muster and nod vigorously. She squints, not sure how to take me. She puts the coffee and the pastry on a tray and pushes it towards me. I say “grazie!” and smile and nod again. The tiniest smile appears on her face before she catches herself. “Prego” she barely says, and I imagine she’s not used to saying “you’re welcome.”
She smiled a little, I smiled a lot. I have no idea what she said and she thinks I’m crazy. But after the smile and nod, she dislikes me just a little less.
So to the smile and nod, I say … <smiles and nods>