A Smile Will Get You A Long Way


The excitement of the first job after University is something not easily forgotten. The first week of work I was introduced to one of the biggest neurologists in the University Hospital, a professor needless to say. My colleague gave me advice and told me to call him Herr Doctor Professor Stephani at all times and to address him in formal German. I nearly choked on my coffee when she informed me of this. I had to find a napkin to clean up the coffee and was slightly embarrassed by my outburst. She was twenty years my senior, laughed at my mess and asked me what the problem was. My answer, "The day he calls Frau Social Worker Masters Degree Ochs, I'll call him that." She shook her head and said, "Oh no, you are trouble little American!"

I met him about an hour later, I only took part of my colleague's advice, addressing him in the formal you version. As I shook his hand firmly, I said, "Hi, Herr Stephani, I am Frau Ochs the new Social Worker." He muffled a simple Hello back looking at me very intrigued. 

As I told my German husband in the evening, he was horrified. I ignored his advice as well and continued to treat everyone without titles but wonderfully at the hospital. I breezed through the floors of the hospital with a smile on my face, not following the social norms, getting giggles and smiles at first but somehow this turned to mutual respect. I was asked by my colleague, "Why are you so stubborn, it will get you into trouble?" My answer was, "We are all equal, and a title does not make someone any better and doesn't show my respect. I treat everyone with respect!"

Twenty years later I don't know if I would still be quite as bold but not far off. I think I've lived in Europe for so long now that I might have pulled out a Doctor Stephani rather than Herr but never would I say the full title. The crazy thing was that my positive attitude, pleasant ways, and respect for all made everyone so happy they forgot about the rest of the rules. 

I try every day, wherever I work or am to treat people this way. The janitor at the school will get the same respect as the principal. I will walk down the street chatting with a homeless person in Amsterdam, and I will sit at a five-star hotel drinking coffee with a VIP. In Europe, in America, anywhere in the world a smile and respect for others will get you a long way. So keep smiling and remember .... we're all in this crazy thing called life together so we might as well make it enjoyable. 

—Allison Ochs Social Worker M.S.W. , Coach, Expat, Mother of three, Wife