We all know that our grandparents’ lives are full of fascinating stories, some of which may even seem out of this world, as they happened in a time completely different from nowadays. Personally, I find that my grandparents always seem to impress me with new details from their childhood or twenties – they are entertaining tales full of lessons or just comedy. As a young adult I realise now that my grandpa’s stories featured a multitude of characters and his current life still creates a lot of entertainment for the family as he is interacting with more people than the average person you will meet in your life. His secret for being so socially active is simple: He loves saying ‘Hello!’ when meeting someone familiar in the street.
This might seem like such an easy and natural thing to do to you, but all of us are guilty of trying to avoid small talk at a party with an acquaintance or seeing someone we know in the street and pretending we were not looking that way. It is normal that this happens, we are all very busy and socialising can be a bit of a struggle at times, especially if you are not an extrovert. So, watching him act in such a friendly manner with a simple ‘Hello’ was extremely meaningful and I took this lesson with me when I started being part of Populus – I actively try to greet people and smile because I know from him that it can make a huge difference in their life and my life.
My grandpa has a lot of acquaintances and he has had a lot of friends throughout his life – co-workers, neighbours, childhood friends, family friends, and they all greet him with a smile and a good disposition when seeing him because they know they can always find a genuine welcoming greeting from him. I see it as a sense of security, they know that they can trust my grandpa for stopping for a second in his life to acknowledge them and ask about their day. Sometimes they just exchange greetings, sometimes they ignore him and sometimes they stop to talk to him and tell him about their day because he let them know he is willing to listen with that simple ‘Hello’.
After my grandparents moved to my hometown to live closer to their children, I saw them going through the struggle of having to live in what was almost foreign land to them. After 50 years of friendships and familiarity, they were in the situation of having to start their social/whole lives from zero and it was incredible for me to watch my grandpa form so many friendships just by greeting neighbours and co-workers. They all slowly started trusting this friendly man who always seemed to be up for jumping out of nowhere to help you however you needed.
The best way to portray the power that a smile and a ‘Hello’ can have is through a recent story that inspired me to write this article as well. My grandpa is “famous” in his block of flats, he was administrator over the neighbourhood for a while, then he was just the friendly neighbour you could go to when the pipes broke down in your house and you needed a quick fix. This lead to many amusing stories for the family – including him coming back to a family dinner covered in sewage because there was an issue someone needed help with. However, over the 15 years since they moved in that flat, my grandparents formed friendships slowly, and one of them is especially meaningful to all of us now. After her mum died, one of my grandparents’ neighbours found herself living alone.
She was a very energetic woman, who would always ask me about school almost every day since I was 7 as I was always staying with my grandparents until my parents would be out of work. She and my grandparents didn’t agree on politics and their lives were very different, but that didn’t stop them from always having friendly chats with her, to show that they are there if they are needed for anything. It inspired her to do the same. Even though she has lived her entire life there, none of her friends showed the same amount of concern for her wellbeing as my grandparents did on a regular basis, not just with her, but with everyone. This allowed her to seek their help and my family’s help when she was badly affected by cancer. I never thought I would say I was so thankful my grandpa just loves saying ‘Hello’, because this simple gesture allowed us to help this woman when she needed human contact the most. My family visited her in the hospital daily when no one else in her life seemed to be able to make time for her anymore. It was an unusual connection, because their lives were so different, but the fact that my grandparents showed her they can be trusted, meant the world to her in the end.
Even though this is an extremely sad and a bit unusual case, it shows how much it can mean to say ‘Hello’ and smile at a familiar face. They can choose where they take this welcoming greet, but it can lead to a beautiful friendship, or someone you can trust to go buy you some medication when you are stuck in the house with a bad cold. It is very important among the elderly as well, because I can see my grandparents counting on these daily short interactions as well when they start feeling lonely. This is an issue among many age groups, so I think a simple ‘Hello’ even when you see your neighbour in the local store or in the park can go a distance that you never imagined.
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