At a recent visit to Oxford Street, I noticed shop assistants have stopped smiling at customers. Worse still, I felt that we the customers stopped expecting a smile, even when handing over our precious money to buy what they're selling us. Everyone in the shops seemed to have that I-am-so-cool-to-smile face on, as though smiling is best left to the village idiots.
I always smile at shop assistants, a big smile, when I engage with them. Some of them look suspicious or simply stunned. Of course, there are life circumstances in which a smile won't happen. If someone's having a bad day, for example. On the tube, of course, we know a smile is high treason. What I'm talking about though is the day to day social interaction with people - at the supermarket, the coffee shops, the gym - it seems we're too busy, too cool, to smile.
In the workplace I routinely notice people who avoid smiling to communicate a variety of signals. The "I'm too important to smile at you" simile-avoidance has been around as long as power has. But now, we have new and more urgent smile-avoidance signals - such as the, "I am too busy to smile" or the "nothing can ever amuse me" non-smile. Every other gay man I come across seems to have this "nothing will ever amuse me" look. Gay bars, especially the 'cooler' ones have become simply a room of po-faced men who look like their mothers have just died. Perhaps a lack of a smile is a way of protecting yourself from getting hurt. After all, what if someone doesn't smile back? Think of the humiliation.
This isn't a city-centric or London-centric thing either. In Cornwall last month, a man serving me at a bar was saying the nicest things to me, although for some reason the corners of the mouth remained stubbornly unmoved throughout the conversation. It has become uncool to smile perhaps. I talked to a friend about this and he said, "Smiling is for old ladies at the bus stop." There is nothing wrong with old ladies at a bus stop, especially if they smile. My mum and dad are deaf, and they are not able to gauge someone's warmth by their voice. They depend on an expression, a frown, a grimace - especially a smile.
If we lose the joy of smiling in our day to day interactions, we lose a great deal more than a display of our imperfect teeth. We lose the currency to communicate, to express desire, to reassure. So please don't be cool, please smile.
Suggested For You
SUBSCRIBE AND FOLLOW
Get top stories and blog posts emailed to me each day. Newsletters may offer personalized content or advertisements.Learn more