Friday, June 19, 2009

When is a Smile, Just a Smile?

A Bengali colleague of mine smiles a lot at people in the office. Apparently, (and I might be totally wrong to generalise here) Bengalis are taught to smile at people and be friendly and all that. Maybe they didn't quite think of the consequences. Or, more likely, the ones who taught these little nuggets that made for good upbringing were themselves born in another era when smile was, innocently, just a smile.

No, I don't volunteer a smile to a stranger; not even to those I see everyday in office, the ones I don't talk to. That's not too nice a thing, and I am not doing this for that necessary surge of my otherwise little known cynicism about life in general and nicety and smiles in particular. I just probably learnt lessons, got drummed down that a smile---how dare you think otherwise---is rarely just that.

I have got myself stuck with dumb ones, irritating ones, lecherous ones, the whole gamut of varieties humans take shape in because of little smiles and a hi, hello now and then. And yes, I mainly mean men here. (And no, I am NOT a feminist, no matter how many times or ways you accuse me of being one. I truly believe men and women are different, not better, not worse, just plain different with different strengths and weaknesses.)

So back to that elusive smile. Have you been in a situation where you, most likely totally by accident, caught a colleague or someone you see often's eyes and couldn't turn away without that bit of awkwardness creeping in? You try and salvage a bit of what is soon turning even more strange by smiling, not a 'happy to see you' one, but more like a 'ok, I see you often and this was a little strange, so I might as well smile' kind of smile. And then, that colleague will see you again another day and smile and then some days later a hi creeps in and suddenly, it is all spiralling out of control and that person thinks of you as a new best friend! Eesh! (Another Bengali expression another colleague amuses me with.)

I would like to be cynical. But these things do lead to good friendships also, no denying that. But the scales tip towards the other lot who see this as a license to flirt and pass snide remarks and then the offer for coffee. Eesh again!

For heavens sake, a smile is a smile. Full stop. Period. Doesn't mean you are my new best friend. Doesn't mean we will be having dinner together two days from now. Doesn't even mean you can text me asking if I had my breakfast/lunch/dinner/tea/whatever, as if all these days I was starving, given that you were not asking before. It means nothing, no invitation, no nothing.

And then, suddenly, with more embarrassing moments, you have to begin to ignore that person like there is a direct chance of contracting swine flu (H1N1, politically correctly!) and find excuses to look away and the rest of the story....

But then, when people choose not to understand, you can scream down their throats and they will still not get it. It is just safer to look away and not relax your muscles upwards. Whoever said smile to brighten up someone's day, smile--someone might be falling in love with you and all that super sugary quotes lived probably in a children's/teen's novel.

And this was another surge of the little known streak of cynicism that I previously mentioned.
This one was entirely for you Sa.

3 comments:

Debby said...

"Have you been in a situation where you, most likely totally by accident, caught a colleague or someone you see often's eyes and couldn't turn away without that bit of awkwardness creeping in?"

Yes, and not just with colleagues, but outside the workplace as well. The problem is we are wired to behave that way, and they call it manners. The irritating part about this so-called smile is that it makes one feel, sometimes, hollow and meaningless. It's tiring too, to smile when you don't fee like. Fortunately, most people solve this problem by keeping their face straight when they find themselves in the situation you described above. How much this trick works, I have no idea. But it's still a trick. There's no escape from manners, God!

Deepa said...

I know, its such a pain sometimes to keep your manners!

And it happens with people other than those in the workplace too. I wrote this post for someone and the issue was specifically meant in the colleague context.

And again, the trick you mentioned works sometimes. The other is to pretend you are busy with your mobile. Works like a charm, to keep unwelcome people away! :-)

Saraswathi said...

"For heavens sake, a smile is a smile. Full stop. Period. Doesn't mean you are my new best friend. Doesn't mean we will be having dinner together two days from now. Doesn't even mean you can text me asking if I had my breakfast/lunch/dinner/tea/whatever, as if all these days I was starving, given that you were not asking before. It means nothing, no invitation, no nothing. "

- You are so right and have hit the nail on the head. Cant' tell you how much of this happens in reality to so many people and that smile really means smile and nothing else. We often to smile because you like to smile at people you know or to greet them... but donno how anyone can misread this so often. !!! And you are right - consequence, you avoid those people, don't smile and later start wondering where did our innocence go? Why can't we be like the little kids and smile for no good reason and why necessarily always have a reason to smile.

Thanks for the wonderful article. Very well written.