Smile, Damn You, Smile

Sheelzebub of Pinko Femnist Hellcat has written a terrific post about telling women to smile (recent “Alas” posts on that topic can be found here and here). Here’s a sample, that I think cuts directly to the heart of the matter:

What is surprising is that so many people in these discussions don’t get just how entitled one must be in to order a perfect stranger to smile at them. At the very least, it’s rude, boorish, and rather obnoxious. It says a lot that a random man feels he has the right to try and dictate how a woman arranges her facial features. It says a lot that it’s considered no big deal for a woman to be expected to change her expression for a stranger’s comfort.

Do you command random people to sing for you? Dance for you? Tell you a joke? Why is it okay to order a woman to smile? And why is it so terrible for her to resent this?

Sheelzebub also quotes Mary’s comment posted on Alas (Mary is the blogger behind Naked Furniture).

Last year in college I took a polisci class on feminism, and one of our assignments one weekend, after having read a piece by [Miss Manners], was to go out and basically do something that you wouldn’t expect someone of your gender to do. Most girls did things like open the door for their boyfriends or pay for dinner, but I went out and told random men on the street to smile. I’m Southern and a manners stickler, but let me tell you that I never had so much fun being balls-out rude in my LIFE. You’d think I had actually said something like “Did you know your penis is very, very small?” They were just appalled. I wouldn’t ever ADVISE doing the same thing, of course…but if you should ever happen to try it, in the interest of SCHOLARSHIP, you know…

I recommend reading Sheelzebub’s whole post.

This entry posted in Feminism, sexism, etc. Bookmark the permalink. 

60 Responses to Smile, Damn You, Smile

  1. 1
    blue lily says:

    As a visibly disabled person using a wheelchair, I have often been told to smile. I don’t believe it is about gender in my case because most of the sexist things male strangers attempt with women rarely happen to me — being neuter in my wheelchair and all. Sometimes it has been women telling me to smile, but the vast majority have been men.

    Conversely, there have been at least two occasions where I was with other disabled friends and we were so clearly having fun we were told by male strangers that we were not disabled. Just like that, a declaration of WHAT we were not. Because sitting there in our chairs — laughing and grinning — we were obviously not their image of what we should be. Very curious. I’ve always thought these men were trying to square their sense of the order of the universe: disabled and sad, able and happy. Women must apparently be happy too.

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  4. 2
    Torri says:

    hmmm never had that happen to me… did have a weirdo on a train tell me I had pretty eyes…
    One thing I’d like to mention for the list is the expectation of ‘dirty language’ or just reasons not to use it. I have even today at 21 been told by my mother or grandmother ‘Don’t use language like that, it’s not lady-like’ and I think it’s one of the reasons I swear casually a lot today, it became an exercise of spite.

  5. 3
    TheSleepingCreature says:

    I’ve had this happen to me multiple times, though more often it seems to be members of my own gender telling me to do so– what happens more is that I’m told to hold my features in a “pleasant” or “ladylike” expression when I’m merely wearing a neutral face, neither smiling nor frowning.

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  7. 4
    Dissented says:

    To the man who says smile—

    How about you frown for an hour and get back to me.

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  10. 5
    anon says:

    I know I’m a bit late to the game here, but I just wanted to say that this happened to me a few weeks ago on the street, and I was incredibly confused. Immediately I felt a rush of ill-defined antipathy toward the man in question – but really, I thought to myself, the next second… what’s so bad about smiling?

    I smiled at him. Appreciatively. As if I were grateful to him for his rude, unsolicited, sexist demand. It felt wrong, but I didn’t know why. Reading this post has let me re-evaluate the experience productively. THANK YOU. And from now on, I’ll smile whenever I damn well please.

  11. 6
    C says:

    I’ve had this happen to me so many times… As another commenter said, I wasn’t sure why I didn’t like it, but after reading this I’m not going to smile on command again!

  12. 7
    Kenny Evitt says:

    I’m guilty of this. Sorry if it was you. Though the phenomenon may be an effect of privilege, please don’t assume it’s generally malicious – respond with a terse “Frown!” of your own; I’d have appreciated it.

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  14. 8
    JH says:

    I get told to smile all the time; been that way my whole life. People who can’t take it when someone is “in their own world” also dislike impassive expressions. I’m guessing these are also the same people who think shyness is a sign of a secret, harmful agenda. I got no patience.

  15. 9
    Chaiya says:

    I tried following the old link to Sheelzebub’s post, and it doesn’t seem to exist any longer. I’d love to read the post. Is it archived somewhere?

  16. 10
    Liz says:

    I have been told to smile throughout my life. I have always hated it. Most of the time I give a smirk or something equivelant. I rarely smile on command anymore but when I was in grade school I was far more complacent. I don’t care if it is a stranger or coworker, it is inappropriate and annoying. I have started responding verbally to some who do it more often and they hate it. This morning I told my male coworker, “No.” “Why not?” “I am not a performing monkey.” He looked embarrassed/shocked and I was so happy about that, that I smiled. Irony?

    Either way, I have never been asked by a friend or social acquaintance to smile because they know me. They know what I’m like when I’m not thinking, concentrating or daydreaming. That being said, the women and men at work [or anywhere for that matter] who smile all the time must not have a single thought in their head. I can only assume that their minds are blank slates so they have nothing better to do than be happy go lucky. Something that really angers me about being asked to smile other than the fact that it isn’t natural to smile 24/7 is that those asking have no idea what is going on in my life or in my mind. Maybe I am having problems at home. Maybe I had a flat tire this morning. Maybe I am stressed out about something. To anyone who asks someone else to smile, screw you.

    Okay, I’m done ranting.

  17. 11
    ONM says:

    I, a twenty-three year old man, have been told to smile a few times in my life, mostly by people much older, but recently by women my age. Always found it confusing and presumptuous. I have never seen or even heard of this being a common or gender-based intrusion. Something to watch out for, I guess.
    This seems related to strangers (e.g., people in service positions) calling you by pet names. My experience with this is actually exactly the same, although this does seem to be more commonly done to women.

  18. 12
    yolio says:

    This comes up a lot in the commentary about Rihanna. She has this whole bad-ass thing that she does (which I *adore*) and people are constantly saying she should “lighten up and smile occasionally.” It makes me crazy. She is awesome as she is! Smiling would totally ruin it!!

    I have often been told by random strangers to smile. I usually take delight in responding with an intense glare, which makes them very uncomfortable ; )

  19. 13
    Lily says:

    This has happened to me and I simply respond with a counter order such as ‘dance!’ When they look dumbstruck I explain that I was simply entering into their policy of giving random orders to complete strangers. THAT makes me smile.

  20. 14
    lilith land says:

    Okay, I know I am really late to this ball game. But I have to respond. This just happened to me tonight. Once again, it was a man telling me to smile. This has happened to me so many times in the past, and always it has been a man telling me to smile. My friend and I got in a discussion about this, and she basically thinks I over-react to this issue. It pisses me off beyond belief.

    So, I went on the internet and typed in “men telling women to smile” and found this fascinating thread. I agree with the original poster it is incredibly boorish and shows no respect for boundaries. For all this guy knows my mother might have just died! I think it is sad that so many people don’t get how inappropriate this is. Anyway, I am through venting.

  21. 15
    H says:

    Recently I got the whole “you dropped something….. your smile” line. I was caught of guard and almost thought it was clever (until I actually thought about it) and I gave him a sweet smile and a little laugh. I started to walk away and got “I like your hair,” replied thanks still walking, only to hear “but not your personality.” I was astounded, hurt, and angry. Not only did he exert control over me by telling me to smile, he insulted me even after I obliged him with a charming smile. What gives him the right to tell me how I should feel? He knew nothing about my personality yet he felt entitled to criticize me anyway. I’ve had guys tell me to smile in the past and it always makes me uncomfortable and self-concious, like there’s something wrong with me because I don’t walk around with a huge smile on my face. It’s not that I’m even feeling upset when it usually happens, just a neutral face. That makes me worry that my neutral face looks upset or something when I’m not. Why can guys wear a neutral face without being told to smile or cheer up?

  22. 16
    Marsbars says:

    I get this at work a lot. I’m a dishwasher in a local restaurant and I’m usually concentrated on my work. I realize I must not look thrilled most of the time, but I’m not always thinking about how miserable I am. Sometimes I might be, but can you blame me?

    I didn’t really know why it bothered me so much when mentold me to smile until I read this thread. I also didn’t really know how to respond. Sometimes I will oblige and smile in a kind of “is this good enough for you?” way. Sometimes I’ll ignore them. It always made me feel funny though. A regular customer once started calling me Smiley. I didn’t know if it was because I smiled a lot or didn’t ..and that bothered me about it. After being what I thought was polite and taking it with a smile a couple times I started to really hate it and decided not to answer to it . A lot of the regulars (who were men) started to call me by it, and they would get annoyed if I had the audacity to ignore them. I’m proud to say that no one has called me Smiley in over a year. I feel like I’ve kind of gotten a reputation as a humorless bitch at work because of it though. For now I just keep to myself and do my work until I can find a new job.

  23. 17
    Eva says:

    Marsbars – thanks for your comment. I hope you do find a better work environment soon. I work in maintenance at a bakery and wash a lot of dishes, but I don’t have the added burden of having to bolster men’s comfort levels with smiles on command. Good luck!

  24. 18
    Siobhan Smith says:

    I don’t mind so much if it is someone I know but it is when its a stranger that it really angers me.
    ‘Smile. It might never happen’
    Eh… and how would you know? We have never met before for all you know it has already happened. For all they know Im having an awful time and they could have just upset me by reminding me. Not really something to smile about.

  25. 19
    dbzl says:

    Whoa wait a minute. What’s with white folks asking me to smile. This one really hit home as random white folks have often asked me to smile.
    Black guy.

  26. 20
    James says:

    I must be waaaayy unusual, cause I don’t believe I’ve ever, EVER done that to anyone. It seems like a really pointless way to get someone to lighten up. Typically I engage people by drawing them out, if they’ll be drawn out, or asking them questions to get them talking. Things get smiley really quick without me demanding it. I typically also lead by example and keep it light and friendly. I should close by assuring everyone that if I try these things and the person (male or female) that I’m talking to doesn’t lighten up, I back off. Obviously they’ve got a reason not to be smiling.
    - Suburban Dad, 41

  27. 21
    Felix says:

    All I have to say is… what the frakking hell? Is this some kind of American thing?

    I have *never* heard of this happening… I mean, OK, my mother and my teachers used to tell me to smile a lot in early grade school (which was annoying), but random people on the street?

    Or maybe this is more of a big city thing… weird.

  28. 22
    Dude says:

    I don’t understand this, maybe because I live in Mexico and I have never heard of something like this. Do people in America just randomly tell you “smile”? I’m male and my family often tells me to smile, but they do it privately and they do it because they think I’m rude and apathetic

  29. 23
    winterWillow says:

    I have anxiety that interferes with my day to day life, so normally I avoid strangers, but this usually feels nonthreatening. Strangers, men and women, tell me to smile fairly frequently and I find it comforting because asking me to smile gets rid of some of my fear of them. I guess I never thought anything else of it.

  30. 24
    Paige says:

    This is not just an American thing at all, I live in England and I’ve had this all over Britain. It’s quite annoying because I know I happen to have the sort of face that can look a bit miserable for no reason, and I don’t like it when I’m actually perfectly content but I get told to smile anyway. I’ll smile when I want to, thanks!

  31. 25
    Robyn says:

    This is something that has happened to me at every work place I have been in, while working. Not so much randomly on the street, but still has been an annoying and extremely invasive thing to me. I’ve worked as a cashier, barista, and in sales. Typically I am told “Hey, smile!” by older men. I am a girl in my early twenties, and I do believe this also plays not only in to my gender but also in to my age. I have never heard a man tell and older woman to smile, though this could just be circumstantial.
    Often, as others have pointed out, I am simply concentrating on my work, especially if it is busy. I also seem to have a concentration/serious face that seems to translate to upset or angry to other people. Iit often surprises me when they comment on a ‘look’ I seem to have given them, completely unintentionally. Being asked to smile by a regular customer during these times did not really bother me, and I would help me realize I was starting to look upset.

    But the trouble with this is they really do not know what is going through my mind. I have answered back with a sarcastic, fake smile the majority of the time. If I wanted to smile, I would have already been smiling. You cannot make someone happier or take their mind off something bad just by asking them to smile. Usually this would aggravate me even more. A stranger presuming that nothing should be wrong, so why should I not smile? Because hey – they’re talking to me, right?

    James, you are a gem. I wish everyone had that attitude! I am actually quite personable, and react much warmer to men who first try to engage in conversation.

    The smile thing equates in my mind to being given candy by male customers, even if they mean nothing by it. Probably because it is very unwelcome and easily seen as creepy when I have no relationship with you as a person.
    Unfortunately this does stem from the guilty until proven innocent attitude, which I have always had. Having a sheltered childhood programmed that mindset in to me before I even had a chance to have a bad encounter with a male, or any type of encounter with a male who was not family or friend for that matter. Alas!

  32. 26
    LaustCawz says:

    It has NEVER occurred to me
    to tell anyone how to feel
    or what kind of facial expression to have.
    On the contrary, MANY people I’ve encountered (women & men,
    though a lot more women than men
    & unrandom just as much as random)
    have continually requested/suggested/urged/demanded
    me to smile (often knowing little or nothing about me or my life)
    for no reason whatsoever.

    I’ve taken to subscribing to the sentiment of animated TV character
    Daria Morgendorffer,
    “I don’t like to smile unless I have a reason.”

  33. 27
    Suckerfishy says:

    I am female and white. I tell people to smile.

    It’s usually when I am on the bus or on the train. Had this a few times that I saw a really really lovely looking person sitting there but with a constant frown on their face, if we get off at the same stop I’d say “you’d look really really pretty if you smiled more” and walk off.

    I kind of actually mean it as a compliment (they really looked nice), and also because I am a person myself where my neutral facial expression is one that makes me look unhappy. I have had people ask me if I am upset when I was just having a blank face, which confused me. So I kind of make an effort to smile more, especially since I work in healthcare and do not want my patients to think I am a grumpy sod.

    So I think pointing out to someone that they are making frowny faces is not necessarily a bad thing, it can actually make them more aware? If they are not in a bad mood but look like they are, they might get not so positive responses from people, and wonder why. Because we all respond to requests better if the person who asks is smiley. If you are not aware you look annoyed, you might wonder why people act oddly around you sometimes.

    So I never considered it a rude thing to tell someone to smile. Granted, I have never worded it as a command…

    Sorry if this is jumbled, English is not my first language.

  34. 28
    Grace Annam says:

    Suckerfishy,

    It did not seem jumbled to me.

    Do you also give other bits of advice to strangers on their appearance, or on other topics? Or is smiling unique in that regard?

    Grace

  35. 29
    Elusis says:

    I’d say “you’d look really really pretty if you smiled more” and walk off.

    Suckerfishy – your English seems fine.

    I have to tell you, if someone said that to me? I’d probably respond “fuck you” or “have a shitty day!” because I don’t feel obligated to be “pretty” for anyone else. And if I’d just had something really bad happen? I’d find it not only insulting but an act of extreme social aggression and rudeness to say something like that to me.

    Also, IMHO it’s pretty screwed up that you wouldn’t offer this “helpful” advice to someone who wasn’t “lovely looking” – I mean, unattractive people are already discriminated against, so if you’re going to try to help people get on better in the world, you might as well try to improve the lives of those who aren’t privileged by virtue of their looks.

  36. 30
    Lkeke34 says:

    I am very late to this discussion, but it’s been my experience that after a certain age people don’t command you to smile anymore or rather it doesn’t happen as often. When I was much younger, I got that sort of thing a lot and my 20 something year old sister gets it a lot now. She complains to me about how if she’s wearing what she considers a neutral face both males and females will command her to smile. She’s mentioned this to me more than a few times so I’m guessing it really bothers her but she has no idea how to respond. I’ve read some of the responses on her and they’re great. (Dance!- has to be my favorite.)

  37. 31
    patti3030 says:

    I used to get this all the time and it was infuriating. It happened everywhere I went and it was only from men. It’s incredibly rude of someone to command that I make them happier by smiling. It was no different when a strange man would tell me how much prettier I would look if I’d only put on a smile. It’s still rude. It’s telling me that I’d be a much better decorative object. Luckily, it happens less now that I’m older and have put on a little weight. When it does happen now it tends to happen while on public transport. Like when I’m waiting for a train. I hate it. Vehemently hate it. It makes me so mad that someone feels it’s their right to tell me how to feel or to better decorate their view by being prettier.

    To suckerfishy:
    That’s just rude. Why do you care if strangers conform to some ideal femininity? Let people be who they are. Stop it.

  38. 32
    Nancy Lebovitz says:

    I used to get told to smile by strangers now and then. I’m probably past the age where it’s likely.

    After a while, I found that if I snapped at the person and their face fell, I immediately felt cheerful. It was like turning a switch. I found it a little unnerving that I could be feel so much better from someone else feeling worse, but on the other hand, they did want me to smile.

  39. 33
    Suckerfishy says:

    I after the first few comments, I thought to myself: this is so over the top, I am not even going to get involved in this discussion. But the replies kept coming, so here I am after all…

    I can just see this evolving to the next step:

    If you go around and smile at people, cultural norms usually require people smile back at you. Whether they want to or not. If I walk into an elevator and whoever is in with me smiles at me really friendly, I smile back – I don’t know them, but it is just one of these things.

    The kind of people commenting on this thread saying how rude it is to verbally ask a person to smile are surely the same kind of people who will turn around and say: By smiling at someone, you are pushing society’s rules on them, forcing them to smile back. You are passive-agressively rude by forcing them! Smiling at people is rude!

    Thus the person who goes round scowling at people, wearing a frown on their face is no longer the rude person, but the smiler is. What the hell. What kind of world do you people live in?

  40. 34
    Eva says:

    Suckerfishy,

    What you describe, which is saying something about smiling making a person more attractive and walking away…that’s not kind or thoughtful, it’s invading a stranger’s space, with unsolicited advice, and then leaving the person with your emotional baggage. Not cool.

    If, as you suggest, you would smile at other people hoping they’d smile back, then go ahead. Why not? As long as you don’t go further by tugging on people’s sleeves saying, ‘Hey, didn’t you see me smile? Aren’t you going to smile back? What’s wrong? Smile!’ See the difference? If you don’t see the difference between smiling at people because you’re happy and want to share your happiness, and this is your way of greeting people you meet, and telling people if they smile they will be more attractive to you, then we are going to have to part ways here.

  41. 35
    Nancy Lebovitz says:

    I’m not sure I’ve heard a rule that I’m required to smile at anyone who smiles at me.

    Suckerfish, I suggest that you look at people when you tell them to smile. If they look angry or resentful, this means you’ve made their lives somewhat worse, even if they smile.

    I think there’s evidence in this thread that a lot of people don’t like being told to smile. Admittedly, we might not be a representative sample, but your decision to smile more might not be representative either.

    I find it rather tempting to give you some advice you probably don’t want to hear, but I’m restraining the impulse so far.

  42. 36
    Kaija24 says:

    In my experience, this is definitely a North American thing. My family is of Nordic heritage and we tend to have “blank faces” when we’re not actively expressing something, which is “normal” in our culture of origin but taken as unfriendly/aggressive/snobbish in US culture. The penny dropped for me when I had a very enlightening conversation about the smile expectation with a good friend of Chinese origin whose FOB mother said that she would never get used to the idea that Americans must go around “grinning like idiots” all the time. :)

  43. 37
    trish says:

    To people saying this kind of behavior is harmless, or that women reacting negatively to this attention are making too big a deal of it, I have to ask: then WHY do men do this? Why? I’m serious. Can you PLEASE tell me why? Is it really because they just innocently want a more beautiful, smiling world? Because if that’s the case, then why don’t they ask other men to do this? Or old women? Or young children? Surely they’ve passed other demographics aside from the attractive, young woman on the street who aren’t always smiling.

    Guess what. Picking out young women to point this demand toward makes it a sexual thing. Ruh roh.

    I swear, next time this happens to me, I’m busting out the Krav Maga. Fuck these entitled pricks who think they can tell me what to do.

  44. 38
    Broom Hilda says:

    As a person who very much reflects my feeling for the moment on my face, it’s very noticeable when I’m not in the mood to smile. Most people leave me alone but some (men) have made “smile” requests. It makes me want to rip their heads off, but usually I just give them a quick, fake smile and keep going. Because I am that person who doesn’t hide behind masks, I am also quite observant of other people’s expressions and feel a little bad for them when their face is saying they are having a bad day or at least not having a good one. So, I will ask them…”Are you having a good day, today?” If they are short, with a “Fine” then I’ll leave them be. But most often people, (strangers) are very eager to roll their eyes, purse their lips, shake their head and comment on what a long, crappy day they are having (especially at cash registers). Until reading this thread it never occured to me that I tend to be way more concerned about a woman having a bad day than a man. (I am a woman) I have a compassion and sympathy for a woman struggling with something on her mind, whereas I don’t really give a rat’s patootee if a man is. That sounds awful, and until now I didn’t even realize that I have this tendancy to use this tactic as a “girls-stick-together” strategy against the world (men). And now that I do realize it, I’m going to do it more often!

  45. 39
    angelclare22 says:

    i get furious when ppl say Kristen Stewert is a B***cH because she doesn’t smile!!

  46. 40
    Ashley says:

    I am a customer service associate at a grocery store. People tell me to smile all the time, and now I realize that they are all men. I despise when they tell me to smile. I don’t think it’s any of their business to dictate my emotions. In fact, it makes me want to do anything but, and I utterly refuse to do it for their benefit.

  47. 41
    Hector_St_Clare says:

    Ashley,

    Then you shouldn’t be surprised if those men choose to take there business elsewhere (as I certainly would, in their place).

    It’s truly unfortunate when expecting people to be moderately courteous to each other in workplace interactions is seen as an imposition.

  48. 42
    marmalade says:

    Hector:

    Smiling does not equal courtesy. Yes, people often smile when providing customer service. However one can be courteous without smiling. Conversely, one can be completely incourteous while smiling.

    Men telling women to smile is about assertion of power, not about lack of professionalism on the part of the service provider.

  49. 43
    Hector_St_Clare says:

    Marmalade,

    Fair enough, perhaps I should have said ‘overtly friendly’ rather than ‘courteous’.

    You’re certainly under no obligation to smile or put on a friendly demeanor to people when you don’t feel like it. By the same token, those people are free to take their business (or their social companionship) elsewhere.

  50. 44
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Hector_St_Clare says:
    July 28, 2013 at 5:13 pm
    Then you shouldn’t be surprised if those men choose to take there business elsewhere (as I certainly would, in their place).

    Seriously?

    I wish more people would smile, as a general rule. I wish the world were happier. And I would probably patronize a smiling salesperson over a non-smiling one, if I were shopping in the mythical land of “all else being equal.”

    But I would never tell anyone to smile. I assume that everyone knows how to smile if they want to. I also assume that most people who are smart enough to become professionals are aware that smiling makes one look friendlier. So if they’re not smiling, they simply don’t want to smile. Which is OK. Why wouldn’t that be OK?

    I’ll take a calmly professional non-smiler over a forced smile any day of the week.

  51. 45
    Ampersand says:

    Hector, do you really choose your grocery story based on if a worker there smiles at you or not?

    Maybe I’m just weird, but I choose my grocery story by location, and I suppose by price as well (i.e., if it was greatly more expensive, that might motivate me to go to a further-away store), and by whether or not it has the food I want. Oh, and I appreciate it being fairly clean.

    I just can’t imagine saying “well, this place is two miles closer than the next supermarket and has the food I want to buy, but that employee didn’t smile at me, so I’m taking my business to a different grocery store!”

    Am I unusual in this?

  52. 46
    Jake Squid says:

    There was a period of years that I didn’t patronize Safeway because I couldn’t shop there without being accosted by several creepily smiling employees asking if they could help me. It seriously creeped me out. I later found out that their brain-slug forced looking smiles came at the direction of the store manager.

  53. 47
    Ashley says:

    Hector,

    Actually, they are regulars and I wait on them all of the time. I am courteous and polite and they are perfectly happy with my customer service even if I do not smile on command. I think it is common courtesy not to tell complete strangers what to do whether they are at work or not. It is rude. I will smile when I choose to smile and I will not smile when I choose not to smile. It doesn’t mean that I’m a horrible person or that I’m bad at my job. It just means I’m human and as a human I am able to enjoy basic rights and freedoms regardless of how I fit into another’s perceptions of how I should be.

  54. 48
    Myca says:

    It’s truly unfortunate when expecting people to be moderately courteous to each other in workplace interactions is seen as an imposition.

    It’s truly offensive that you think women who do not smile on command for you ought to be punished economically.

    —Myca

  55. 49
    closetpuritan says:

    Count me among those surprised that smiling would be important enough to cause someone to no longer visit a store. In addition to the factors Amp lists, some that are specific to the workers are competence and willingness to help me (rather than avoiding me)–these are more important to me than friendliness. As an introvert, there’s also such a thing as overly friendly to me.

  56. 50
    Hector_St_Clare says:

    Closet Puritan,

    Well, when it comes to grocery stores, I’d choose based on price, location, and selection. If I was choosing which coffee shop or hairdresser to go to, though, friendliness might play a bit more of a role.

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    lkeke35 says:

    Imo, it’s all of a piece with the idea that women’s bodies do not belong to them when they are in a public space. Anybody, male or female, feels perfectly free to comment on what you look like.

    If you’re fat, then they have a judgement about that they they need to immediately share with you. If you’re too thin , here’s how to put on some weight. If your hair is too short, too long, you’re not wearing makeup, you’re wearing makeup but not in the proscribed manner, whatever clothes you have on and how you wear them, if you’re eatingsomething than that’s wrong and also includes however you’re wearing your face whenever you’re just walking around thinking to yourself. Total strangers have an opinion about that and seem to have no qualms about sharing that opinion with you.

  58. 52
    Facetious says:

    Smiling has, as I understand it, been proven to make a person more attractive to the observer. Also, we usually smile at people we find beautiful since we want them to find us beautiful in return. From this its pretty clear that not smiling at someone sends out the message that “I don’t have any particular interest in you finding me attractive”. This might be offensive to those who don’t like to be ignored and thus the proverbial pig-tail-pulling of ordering someone to smile. Then they will have paid attention to you and you might even have forced the “please find me attractive”-message (aka a smile) out of them and you will feel acknowledged and accomplished.
    I will say right now that I have never been told to smile by a stranger, which is probably because I’m a naturally smiley person from a Scandinavian pov, I have however been asked why I look grumpy/sad since my thinking-face is rather sad looking. I don’t find this approach half as invasive as being order to change my face. Ordering someone’s feelings about sort of connects with the writing tool “Show, don’t tell” which big Holly Wood movies are generally very unskilled at since it requires psychological ingenuity in order to lead the person to feel what you are feeling instead of “telling” them what to feel.

  59. 53
    Marcus the Confused says:

    Fairly new poster here folks but a long time lurker. I have found this website fascinating and challenging to many of my preconceptions. The whole commanded to smile debate has been one of the more interesting for me. It was a topic I never really knew existed… or, at least, of such concern.

    I am a rather shy person in real life and am unlikely to engage strangers in unnecessary conversation so I am fairly confident that I am innocent of commanding anyone to smile… at least verbally. I do recall a couple of occasions of smiling at a woman who looked depressed about something. The intended, nonverbal, communication was: whatever it is, it can’t be that bad, so perk up. A rather arrogant presumption on my part I now realize… and now I have to wonder if the smile I got back was an agreement with my sentiment or a case of: here’s your smile, now leave me alone, asshole.

    Sometimes, it seems, the best thing you can do to help people is just leave them alone and say (verbally or non-verbally) nothing.

    Sometimes.

    A few months ago I was standing in the checkout line of my local grocery store. The cashier must have looked depressed or put out about something because the guy ahead of me was cajoling her to “give me a smile. C’mon, just one little smile.”

    I stood there fascinated and flabbergasted that something I had only read about was happening in real life, right in front of me. I was also astounded that the condescension wasn’t obvious to all, particularly the jackass who wanted a smile.

    I probably should have said something right away but my natural shyness combined with a slight fear of both the jackass (he was a hell of a lot bigger than me) and appearing condescending myself (playing the role of knight in shining armor to the rescue) I kept quite.

    She finally did give him a wan smile and he finally took his change and his groceries and left… looking like he had just made the world a better place. When I came up to the cashier I did find the courage to say, “you don’t have to smile at me. In fact, you can scowl at me if you want… I can take it.”

    The result was a laugh and an actual, genuine, smile.

    It seems a little respect can go a long way.

    Huh… who’d a thunk it.

    A note on the side issue of a service worker who appears less than friendly. Certainly it is good business and good customer relations to put on a friendly face even when one is not feeling particularly friendly. A certain level of professionalism demands it. A certain level of humility on our part demands that we cut people a little slack. Anyone can have an off day and there could be any number of reasons why someone is feeling less than chipper – health problems, financial problems, a death in the family, the list is long.

    It would, therefore, take more than one encounter with a unfriendly attitude before I threaten to take my business somewhere else.

  60. 54
    lkeke35 says:

    Also an excellent example of : if you want me to smile then say something genuinely funny. Or not. Sometimes just a smile and a “hi” is enough.
    But commanding me to do it as if I were some sort of animal you’re trying to train -epic fail.