Changing the community one smile at a time

Here’s the scene:
I live in an apartment, one of 215 units spread over seven blocks. The lift opens out to two units per floor. Prior to getting a dog, I rarely saw other residents. My life was out of the apartment, into the lift, down to the carpark and off; return, out of the car, into the lift, back in the apartment.

These days, I walk around because the dog needs a walk. I see mums and their kids on school mornings gathered at the entrance, and occasionally, residents making their way around. What has become evident to me is this – the people most likely to greet me are foreigners. Fellow Singaporeans walk by quickly with nary an acknowledgement.

This same behaviour extends outside of my residence. When we take the dog out, dog owners who tend to stop and engage in friendly banter are foreigners. The instinct of most Singaporean dog owners is to pull their dog away and walk by quickly.

None of this is new of course. Much has been said about Singaporeans being an apathetic lot. Ask them for directions and you’d receive a reply so generic, it’d leave you more confused. Hold the door open and a stream of Singaporeans will walk through with no one bothering to say “Thank You”.

I could accept this as simply the Singaporean way; that Singaporeans lack social graces and are an insular bunch. On this small, crowded and hurried island, most people engage in transactional living, forgetting that people are behind the transactions.

Well, it’s time to wake up and smell the roses. It may be a rat race out there but we still live amongst the living. And it’s not as if Singaporeans can’t change. There are those who behave differently with foreigners. They greet them and are similarly warm and chatty, sometimes bending over backwards to help.

It comes down to a learned social behaviour. Start smiling and greeting your immediate neighbours and it’ll catch on. It may take a while and it could get frustrating but the end results will be worth it. I’d rather cross paths with someone who offers a breezy “Hello” than be greeted by silence and a blank stare.