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.