Sweden is a cold country and some years when the weather Gods decide to play their favorite game “havoc”, we do not get to catch even a glimpse of the biggest source of energy for earth our very own Mr. Sun for a good 4-5 months. It is difficult to imagine life without the warmth of the golden sun rays to start your day with, imagine living this life now.
Over the years the cold, the wind and the lack of the warmth in atmosphere has somehow transcended to the people, making it a country where people complain about how Swedes don’t smile so often. Yes a natural and common expression like smile is a rare commodity here especially during the long, dark and gloomy winter months . And living here, I realized it is not their fault, a little of that chilled wind seemed to have gone inside my heart and I found myself smiling a lot less too.
It wasn’t the same though when I had first come to Sweden. I carried the warmth and energy of a friendly Indian girl, so in awe of the heavenly landscapes around her, happy to be in a beautiful scenic country.
I would smile a lot then at people around me in markets, or at train stations and my neighbours on a bus ride just like the way I used to in India but somehow didn’t managed to get the same response back. Infact I would more often than not receive some very awkward reactions, some expressions which I couldn’t understand then.
After a few days, I discussed my problem with a friend who had been living here for long. I was worried more about my looks then the reactions, maybe it was something on my face that didn’t pleased the people around me. Thankfully, she assured me there was nothing wrong with my looks and my face was fine too but the problem was that if you smiled too much the way I did, you were considered lunatic. I was baffled at this cultural trait of the Swedish people, it made no sense to me at all. But soon I realized my friend was right. People thought you were crazy if you smiled at them without a reason. Their expression said it all Why didn’t I get that earlier.
Anyway, so life was going on chewing on the new aspects of a different culture I was trying to fit in and learning to start behaving more like them when things changed one day for me and I saw a tiny ray of hope.
It was another one of those cold and dark winter evenings when it gets pitch dark at 3 in the afternoon and snow and wind blind your sight. The temperature was anywhere near -10 and as I waited for my bus to go back home after my university classes, every second seemed long. The wait seemed never ending and just as I thought the bus would be coming any second now the waiting time for the bus on the digital LED display changed from 0 to 10.
It turned out the bus was late by another 10 minutes, as the led displayed the new bus time beaming gleefully in the background of a dark evening. The crowd started getting restless on seeing the change and the usually neutral expression on their faces slowly started taking the shape of a frown. In the little Swedish I had learned I understood they were complaining about transport working poorly due to heavy snow and how the bad weather is likely to last anther 1 month.
Finally, I heard a sigh of relief from the crowd as I saw the bus approaching. People half frozen , irritated and tired by the long wait queued up neatly in a long line to board the bus, another Swedish norm where there is a status quo to maintain discipline and avoid pushing and pulling (a rare sight in my country I remembered).
And then something I had rarely witnessed before in Sweden happened,.As the lady two places ahead of me in the que stepped inside the bus, she started laughing, giggling actually. My ears must be ringing from the wind I thought.
But to my surprise the gentleman behind her also for once looked up from his I-phone he had been immersed in for all the while looked up and smiled. I was very curious by now, everyone entering the bus started laughing and smiling as if they were welcomed by a screen playing Mr. Beans. Curiously, I waited for my turn to find out what exactly was going on.
And as I entered the bus disappointed to find no screen , I was greeted by the most welcoming and warm smile (the one that could put the best international air-hostess to shame!) by the bus driver as he beamed happily…”Hej , Hej, Välkommen omboard” (read Hey hello, welcome on board!)
With a round face and a large pot belly, he reminded me of Santa Claus ho-hoing on his sledge and I couldn’t help myself smiling at his energy…his effervescence was surely contagious. Apart from greeting the people and welcoming them on board, he was also bidding farewell to the ones getting down from the back door waving and asking them to come back again. I saw them smiling and waving back at him too. Suddenly the whole mood around me had changed from gloomy to merry in a few seconds and all it took was a joyful smile and a welcome greeting from a Santa like looking bus driver.
I learned two very important lessons in my life that day. I learned that it is important to be yourself in all situations positive or negative, just the way the bus driver had continued to be his happy self and not let the pessimism around him affect him.
I also learned what magical effects random acts of kindness can have.
But the most important lesson I learned that day was that to remember that it does not matter how big or small, rich or poor, common or influential you are, each one of us has the power to make a difference , to bring in a positive change and create happiness around us and this my friends is the only way to create an impression of a lifetime because no matter how many flight, trains or buses I boarded after that , till date the only face that left an impression was that of the welcoming bus driver.
Sane or insane, now I continue to share a smile where ever I go!
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Much Love, Swati Chauhan