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June 09, 2004

A Tap on the Arm

I was on the up escalator, leaving the train station. I didn't feel up to walking the seventy-plus steps. Someone behind me gently taps me on the arm. It's a woman with a pleasant, open face. She seems nice.

"Hi," she says. "I've seen you on the train, with your husband."

"Oh, yes," I say, trying to be friendly. Do I know you? Are you from my office?

"You never seem to smile. You always look so serious. You have such a nice smile - you should smile more," she says.

"Oh, thank you." I smile...and then I turn around. I get off the escalator and leave the station to walk to work. I don't look behind me.

I should have introduced myself, asked her name. She was very nice - she had a nice smile - and she was giving me, a total stranger, a compliment, and a suggestion. But this was too weird. People are more friendly around here, they will say hello when you cross paths in the neighborhood. But I am still not used to, nor expect people to talk to me, let alone telling me I should smile. I'm used to thinking I'm invisible, beyond or beneath notice.

When I was five, or seven maybe, my father told me something very similar. He said that people would ask him why I never smiled, and he said I should smile more. At the time, I thought, how can I just smile, how can I make myself do something if I don't feel like it?

I didn't finish the story. While it was a very kind thing for the woman to say to me, they were exactly the wrong words. When I turned around I had to try to keep it together. One doesn't feel so invisible trying to hold back tears.

Yours, &c., LC | 11:57 AM | Slice o' Life | Comments (6)

Comments

i wouldn't say that it was so kind. it was more like intrusive!

what business is it of hers? why does it bother her if you don't smile? or if you do? who cares? if you were crying, say, and she stopped to see if she could be of assistance, that would be kind. or maybe she could've just said "hi, i see you on the train all the time just wanted to say hi" blahblahblah, which probably would've made you smile anyway.

people tell me to smile all the time and it's really annoying. i don't feel like smiling unless there's something to smile about and i also have a mouth that naturally turns down- so people think i'm sad or pissed off when i'm not.

anyway, i'm sorry that she made you sad! you are generally a happy and friendly person... so please don't let her comment bother you!

Posted by: z. at June 9, 2004 02:09 PM

Hmm. Serious-looking person with fantastic sense of humour and a penchant for accurate pen-portraits of her rude neighbours - of whom does that remind one? ... Could it be Ms Austen, perhaps? You're in the best of company, Lady Crumpet!

Well done for remaining well-mannered under pressure and in the face of such an ill-mannered intrusion!

Posted by: Annie at June 9, 2004 02:24 PM

Thanks, girls.

It wasn't that she made me upset; I was already feeling raw. I can't really go into it here, but I'm having to deal with having been a bad friend. I had written more, but left it out because it's probably not a good idea right now, if at all.

But the episode was pretty weird; it almost seems like it happened to someone else.

Posted by: Lady Crumpet at June 9, 2004 03:50 PM

I think that was an odd comment as well. It is nice to compliment someone, but telling someone to smile more is like telling someone to be better looking or to do something else in order to please the people around them.

I don't know if that's what she meant. Maybe, knowing the way people think around here, she intended it to be a compliment on your smile and a well-wishing, or statement of hope that you will find reasons to smile. Of course, that's the most charitable reading I can think of and it's not the most straightforward way of interpreting that comment.

Posted by: Scott at June 9, 2004 03:55 PM

How odd. I've gotten the "you should smile" routine from strangers before too, and I've always wondered why people get invested in seeing other people smiling. It might be a simplistic desire to see that everybody is happy, but it seems so intrusive to me.

Posted by: tangognat at June 9, 2004 10:52 PM

I used to get this all the time. I always found it intrusive as well; how dare anyone tell me how to feel? But in the last few years I've not heard this; I think I've lost a kind of "sad puppy dog" look I used to have. I guess at 50 I'm just not cute anymore...

Halleluia! :)

Hope your personal situation you don't want to blog about (very sensible) turns out well.

Posted by: SilverDragon at June 11, 2004 11:49 AM