I’d like to say it’s taken me 62 years to master having a confused look on my face, but in reality, I think it’s the default facial expression I was born with.
And while there may be times when having a confused look may not be a good thing (such as when a student asks me a basic question, or when I am taking a math test, or when I am looking at my monthly bank statement), I’ve learned that my look of utter confusion is usually quite beneficial.
And it’s never been truer than my first week in Singapore. I’ve been finding that the people here are incredibly helpful when they see that befuddled look on my face. Here are some examples:
- our first day in town, we were walking through the local mall and came across an Auntie Anne’s pretzel stand (I guess they are a global phenomenon). Anyway, we ordered a pretzel, and I took out my credit card and was told they don’t take credit cards. I then took out a $10 bill (U.S.), assuming that U.S. money is good everywhere. Well, not the case. So I stood there dumbfounded, with the pretzel just sitting on the counter, not knowing what to do. Fortunately, a woman was sitting nearby and asked if we needed any help, and we explained the situation. She offered to buy the pretzel for us! I’m convinced it was the look on my face that indicated I could be stuck there all day, trying to figure out what to do. Her offer snapped me out of it, and we thanked her but said we would find a local ATM and get some cash out, which we did. But what a great introduction to the people of Singapore, and the power of the confused look.
- the second incident happened the next day. We were going to take the subway somewhere, and when we got to the platform, we were not sure which side of the platform we should be on. Looking back and forth between the two tracks must have enhanced my default confused look to the point where a subway employee came over and asked where we were going, and then explained in great detail how to get to where we wanted.
- There were two separate incidents today. The first happened at a food booth in the mall, coincidentally right near Auntie Anne’s. I picked up a sandwich (for the ridiculously low price of $1.70 ($1.25 U.S.)), and went to pay for it. At this point in our stay, I had accumulated a great deal of change, opting to always pay with a bill since I wasn’t quite comfortable using the change. However, I needed to start using the change, otherwise, I’d come home with several hundred dollars in Singaporean coins. So I just stuck my hand in my pocket, grabbed as many coins as I could, and just offered my open hand to the cashier with a confused look. She did not speak English, but fortunately, I think a look of confusion is universal, and she just nodded and proceeded to count out the necessary amount.
- the final event just happened a couple of hours ago. We were heading out to a local corner cafe for dinner since I had seen a picture on a sidewalk posterboard of what appeared to be a nice vegan dinner. However, when they sat us down and gave us our menu, I didn’t see it on the menu, and the menu was a little difficult to understand. A perfect storm for my confused look to go into action. As it turned out the owner of the cafe was sitting next to us and asked if we needed any help. I quickly accepted his offer and walked him around to the street sign and pointed at what I wanted. He called the waitress over and spoke in Chinese to her, explaining what I wanted. He then guided us for the next hour through everything; he made suggestions for what my wife and son could eat; he told us how to eat it, he then bought us an after-dinner tea on the house, and then let us take a taste of the garlic bread he had just ordered himself. Not only was it the best meal we have had in Singapore, but it was also one of the best restaurant experiences we have ever had. You can be sure we will be back many more times.
As you can see, at the heart of all of these stories is the hidden power of my look of confusion.
That, and the hospitality of the Singaporean people.
*image from Quick Transfer Moving