So, here I was completely alone for the first time in a new country heading towards Delta gate to board a plane to
. There was a visible difference between the international section of Atlanta and the domestic one. The first one looked like a pack of mules have just passed through it. It was noisy, the floors were laminated, the bathrooms were dirty, and the space was cramped with no chairs to sit at. I guess the international airplane companies were saving on rent and customer service. The domestic section was quite different. New York Airport
The floors were covered with soft clean carpet, the space was vast and open with big windows facing the runway; quiet, soothing music was sounding everywhere and there were plenty of nice comfortable chairs. It was early in the morning and hardly any passengers were visible. The lady at the gate pointed to a long hallway and told me to walk that way. It was later that I realized this was the special passage way that takes you directly from the waiting area into the airplane. Back in
Europe if you want to board a plane, first you have to walk outside the building, and wait for a bus to pick you up. Then you board the bus, wait for everybody else to come in, ride to the airplane and take the high stairs up the plane. You have to be careful and bring a light carry-on or there will be no one helping you to lift that suitcase up the stairs. As I was walking down the hallway, I was assuming I was going to exit the airport building any moment. Imagine my total shock, when, after I stepped in, I realized I was already inside the plane.
I was still baffled of as to how I got inside when a young, good-looking man, in a clean white shirt and khaki pants came to me, smiled at me, looked me in the eyes and said “How are you today?” At this moment, I was ready to run back or scream for help. Here I was alone and defenseless and this man was making “sexual advances” at me. HELP! I quickly found my seat and luckily, thanks to my discounted ticket, it was in the back of the plane-the last row, the last seat, far away from everybody. The plane was almost empty. I curled in my seat and tried not to think about the strange man. You see, it was very unusual in my country for somebody to smile at you if you did not know them and try to ask you how you are. People did not look at each other’s eyes and definitely did not great each other on the streets. Only the creeps did. And this was one of them if you had asked me.
A little later during the flight, I saw the same guy coming down the aisle towards the flight attendants’ cabin in the back. As he passed me, he looked at me again and asked me with a concerned voice, “Are you OK?” I must have looked as a cornered wild animal to him. I did not answer, and tried not to look at him, just nodded seriously and looked out the window.
Finally the two-hour flight from
New York to was over. Soon, I was going to be met by another family and everything would be OK. I just wanted to get out of this airplane and away from this strange man. I got my carry-on and headed towards the exit. And, there he was again…standing at the gate, smiling and saying good bye to all the passengers. Suddenly I realized, “He was the pilot of the plane! He was just being nice” I felt incredibly embarrassed and stupid and confused, “But why was he so nice to ME? He didn’t know me. I was a total stranger to him.” This was my first encounter with American southern hospitality. Atlanta
People in the south greet you all the time and smile at you. If you enter an elevator, they will often talk to you. If you are stranded on the highway and your car breaks, they will stop and help you; even the POLICE are helpful (I have another story about that and will tell it later). If you are in a store, and you are looking for something, they will bring it to you or show you where to find it. Total strangers, at random places, will just start chatting to you about anything on their mind. Some will even ask you for advice about a piece of clothing they are buying. If you are driving and you have to make a left turn but the traffic is very busy, they will let you go first. If you have to cross the street, they will stop their cars and let you cross it. It goes on and on and on. I liked it but I did not even know how to respond properly. It always took me by surprise. I guess, to them I must have looked incredibly rude. That’s how some of my immigrant students look to me now, after 13 years of living in the South and
I recently had a talk with a new immigrant from my country
. He proudly declared that all Americans are fakes and he would rather have the good, old, rude Bulgarians, because they were real and the Americans were not. In Bulgaria , only friends are nice to you and really care about how you are doing. Here everyone asks you but they really do not want to know. It was so difficult to explain to him that Americans are truly nice to you because it is the way they are brought up. He was confusing niceness with friendship. Just because people are nice doesn’t mean they are going to be your friends. It is their culture to smile and be nice; it is their way of showing they respect you as a human being. I often catch myself telling my immigrant students to smile more often. When I look at my pictures from the past I see only serious looking adults and children. Even today, every time we take pictures as a class there will be several serious looking faces on them. My American friends used to ask me “Why are you so sad on your pictures,” and I found it amusing that to them I looked sad, but to me I looked normal. Bulgaria
I am used now to smiling and being nice, so much that the last time I visited my good old country I smiled and greeted the custom officer standing next to the airport gate. He looked at me as if I was insane and I thought he was going to arrest me. It is only when you go back after staying in
for a while that you begin to evaluate your own country and see things you have never seen before. And, oh my! You are in for a big surprise. America