When I was a child, my mom and dad would have guests to our house on a regular basis. Even though it was just their friends, they would drag us down from our rooms to greet their friends, one by one. Each adult got a kiss and a greeting. Usually, the adults will chat with us for a while, asking about school. The whole greeting process would take, depending on the number of friends they have over, between 10 to 30 minutes.
After we have greeted everyone, we were allowed to retreat back into our rooms. Only to repeat the entire process by bidding the guests goodbye when it’s time for us to sleep or when the party ends, whichever comes first. They did this with every event, in or out of our house, with family or among their friends. It doesn’t matter what the occasion, everyone gets a greeting.
I remember hating the whole exercise.
It felt futile to me. “Why do I need to do it?” I would question my parents, “They’re not my friends.” My mom would put on her stubborn face and say in Chinese “You have to show respect and be polite.” If all her cajoling fails, she’d call her back up… the big guns… DAD. One shout and we’d come down the stairs running.
Being a sullen teenager, I felt resentful. I didn’t see the point and I accused them of treating me like a pet, a showpiece. Even if I did do the greeting rounds, as I used to call it, and I didn’t smile or I looked cranky, I would get a huge sermon the following day. They would harangue me about the importance of smiling and being welcoming and friendly… which would make my brother and I sulk even more.
How ironic that this lesson is one that I most appreciate now.
Due to my parents rigid training, greeting everyone is automatic to me. I would make the rounds of people I meet (whether it be school or a party) with a big smile of my face and a pleasant hello. It only takes me a few seconds to greet people and a few muscles to flex on my face, and I am able to acknowledge someone and make that person smile in return.
I realized that one simple act can make such a huge difference. Some people have taken to calling me Ms. Congeniality which bewilders me because I felt it was flattering, but undeserved. The only thing I do, which comes naturally to me anyway, is the greeting.
Now, I am teaching my children to greet my friends (and theirs) with the same amount of gusto my parents showed before. Even if they’re not in the mood or cranky, I tell them to go bless the adults and and do the “greeting rounds” like I had done when I was young.
I am happy when I find my kids not needing to be prompted to greet anymore. It is automatic to them to bless people I stop to talk to and they excitedly pull my hand to go up to greet friends they may meet randomly in the malls.
It’s true a smile and a welcoming word makes a world of difference. I hope that my kids internalize the lesson, just as I have internalized the lesson albeit it was initially an unwelcome one.
I’m glad my parents were such hard-asses. Otherwise, my brother and I would have missed out on something special.