The Grin

There were about 15 of us sitting at the table. Two friends from China, a friend from Saudi Arabia, her husband, about five of us from Hawaii, and at the head of the table was our Turkish friend. The restaurant walls were lined with framed pictures of tourist attractions in Turkey and all of the dishes being served were authentic Turkish foods. The time we shared was filled with remarks about the tasty food and questions about the pictures on the wall and how to say “thank you” in Turkish. As we were about to leave, a friend asked, “how much do we each need to pay?” Our host, the Turkish friend, turned to her and replied, “There is no need to pay. The owner of the restaurant said this meal is free.” As people responded in shock and gratefulness the grin on his face was priceless. I realized this was the plan from the beginning. He invited our whole class to the restaurant just to treat us to a Turkish meal and give us an opportunity to experience his culture.

Of course the night wasn’t complete without a visit to a nearby Turkish ice cream stand. After enduring every Turkish “here’s your ice cream cone-- just kidding” trick in the book we were all there licking our ice cream and practicing our Turkish “thank you” pronunciation with the young ice cream boy and older turkish man that ran the stand. I looked over at our Turkish friend as he stood there watching us speak to the old Turkish man, and there it was again-- the grin.

Two weeks later, we’re giving presentations in class and our Saudi Arabian friend is presenting about hijabs. After teaching us about the history and meaning, she takes out a bag filled with colorful pieces of fabric and announced, “I brought one for each of you!” There I am putting a navy blue hijab around my head while she goes around helping each of us put it on correctly. She goes up to the girl standing next to me, takes the piece of fabric and says, “just like this”. As she wraps the piece of cloth around the girls head and tucks in the corner, I caught a glimpse of it again-- the grin.

Just the other day, one of our Chinese classmates returned from a short trip to China. We walked into class and there was a bag full of Chinese snacks and bookmarks. “Each of you can take two!” she said. The bag was passed around as people grabbed snacks and bookmarks saying thank you in Chinese and uttering --with shameful pronunciation-- any random Chinese word or phrase that came to mind. She sat back in her seat and I glanced over at her. Of course, there it was-- the grin. She was beaming with satisfaction. And for some reason, it made me grin too. What she was feeling was so pure. It wasn’t a self-satisfaction that came as a result of personal accomplishment, it came as a result of proudly sharing their culture with others.

All these smiles reminded me of the feeling that came over me when I took my exchange student friends to a lookout that overlooked my hometown in Hawaii. We’d drive up to the top of the mountain with the windows down, crisp Hawaiian mountain air flowing through the car. I’d park on the side of the road where we were able to sit on a ledge and look down at Honolulu, lush green valleys that embraced a bustling city surrounded by a deep blue pacific ocean. While they just sat there in the moment taking in the scene and breathing in the mountain air, I couldn’t help but grin. I would think to myself, “This… this is my home.” as I watched them gaze into the distance.

I’ve learned firsthand that the fascinating thing about sharing culture is that it empowers people; pride and confidence forcefully express themselves in the form of “the grin.” That’s because when sharing a culture, you aren’t just informing others about a country’s traditions and customs. You are representing yourself and your origin. After sharing, when you receive a positive reaction, you feel accepted. These moments strengthen the global thread that connects us all by creating compassion, friendship, and most importantly, unity.

What's your most memorable "grin" moment?