At first, it was funny: how shocked people would get when I speak to them in German. The most shocked are white Germans whose homeland, incidentally, has been populated with thousands of black Germans way before World War II and beyond. The usual response is the white Germans’ sharp, almost accusatory question: “Where did you learn German?” as if I’m a black-faced spy in their midst.
I answer them patiently in German: I studied it in high school and in college. And also I learned from my stepmother who was Czechoslovakian and a German work camp survivor. As I was growing up, German was spoken constantly in my home between her and my oldest sister who was born in Germany.
This information literally renders white Germans speechless as they, finally, weakly reply with a halfhearted greeting to me in German. Then they hastily beat feet out of my sight as if I’m a two-headed alien from Mars. Sigh!
But I also have to point the finger at myself as I’m just as guilty of making assumptions of people. Countless times I’ve prejudged people, instantly shuffling them into categories of race and tagging on preconceived notions. And all this even before I said ‘Hello’!
No wonder I’ve embarrassed myself over and over again when I meet people who shatter that narrow-minded mold I’ve cast them into. I’ve lost potential friends and valuable contacts over this horribly ingrained habit. Time for change.
As I’m working very hard to wean myself from this negative behavior, I’ll share with you some new techniques I found fruitful in establishing genuine and pleasant first encounters:
MEET EVERY STRANGER WITH A SMILE
This is a win-win situation because most people can’t help but smile back. A smile quells tension and translates into “You’re a friend as far as I’m concerned.” If they prove otherwise, it’s on them. You initially took the high road.
ALWAYS MAKE EYE CONTACT
Indeed, your eyes are “the windows to your soul.” Your dazzling smile will automatically bring warmth into your eyes and add to your sincerity. That way if you make a faux pas (putting your foot in your mouth), you can almost be forgiven by the other person because of the genuine effort you’re making into getting to know them.
START WITH HELLO…HI…HOW ARE YOU…ETC.
Keep it simple.
HOLD OFF WITH THE QUESTIONS
It’s not necessary to know everything about a person right away. Give the new friendship some room to breathe. Your questions most likely will be naturally answered in future conversations.
ENJOY THE FRIENDSHIP
Hey, there are no guarantees that this stranger will be your best friend for life, a future mate or a business partner. You may never see that person ever again. But for that brief moment of the first meeting, let it count with pleasantness and kindness. You never know where it will all lead.