Smile, and the Whole World Smiles with You?


I made it my mission to understand—and take on—the world of non-smilers and rude folks. If only for a week. Here’s an up close look at my daring journey to put the “kind” back in humankind.

It used to be that the deadpan, trance-like stares that penetrated deep into nothingness were reserved for catwalks. You know, fancy pants panache. The quasi-catatonic look that subtly whispers “I see you” yet boldly screams “but I’m really thinking about what’s on TV later.”  

Ladies and gentlemen, these days, that attitude seems to have jumped right off the pages of high-style magazines and into our own backyard. That “I know you’re there but so what” attitude is all around. The grocery store. The gas station. The fitting room. Even in the next lane or over the phone.


Yes, smileless faces where entire transactions take place without so much as even an utter of the common greeting known as “hello.” Oh, and forget about the genuine comment that typically follows: “How are you today?” or “Can I help you?” If it is said, it’s often preceded with an indistinguishable facial expression that looks more like a baby about to have gas than an attempt to smile. 


Fast-Talkers and Jaw-Jutters

Take my recent call for pizza delivery:

Pizza Place: pizzaplacewhaddayaneed?

(was that a person? A machine? A wrong number?)

Me: Hi, is this Pizza Pl. . .

Them: whatcanIgetya

Me: I’d like to order. . .

Them: Pick up or delivery?

Me: Pick u . . .

Them: whatcanIgetya

Me: I’d like to order a large pepperoni

Them: 15 minutes.


No hello. No good bye. No thank you. The whole conversation was void of calm, professional courtesy that undoubtedly raised my blood pressure just as much as their cheese was going to raise my cholesterol.


And the irony of it all is that it’s often done while standing below a customer service sign or with all the meanings that wearing a pin saying “senior manager” used to embody.

How about my return at a department store:


In lieu of even a quick hi, I got the jaw-jut in my direction. Not a word, just the jut. I handed her my receipt. Then my item. Some register keys were pressed, she “told” me to enter my debt pin number with a Morse-code tap tap tap of fingernails on the square keypad next to me. Stapled the receipts. Slid the papers towards me. Silence. I guess that concluded the 2:00 showing of that day’s Department Store Pantomime. 


The Blame Game

I’ve tried justifying rudeness by chalking it all up to, “but everyone has bad days.” Maybe they don’t feel well. Maybe they just don’t want to be working there. But for crying out loud, be happy! Not Pollyanna dancing in the tulips. Not unrealistic overly broad, fake grins. Just common courtesy, naturally respectful, life-is-short-so-smirk, happy. 


I’ve gone even further, delving into memories of my Psych 101 classes. Maybe these frowns of fury were masks covering up deep-seeded personal woes. Narrowed eyes and tight lips were outward displays of coping with difficult times.  Fido passing.  A bad breakup. Or worse, a bad haircut.


Even blamed it on technology. We can crank out an LOL or a smile icon, and we text faster than we talk. All that, but minus that important element of one human looking at another directly in the eye (gasp!) and (gasp again) . . . smiling or saying “good morning.” Human interaction. Perhaps we’ve just forgotten, all wrapped up on our notion that staying in touch is all about touching the “send” button. Therefore, our world is thrown into a state of momentary confusion over that all that human interaction nonsense: what was that expression where a mouth curves upwards? A pre-sneeze sneer? A flirtatious gesture? Imitation of an alpha wolf bearing teeth? Wha. . . wha. . . what do I do now, for the love of man, help!


I blamed it on the times. Pain at the pump. Politics. Finances. Surrounded by such frustrating matters begets grumpiness and attitude. It simply warrants Fancy Pants Panache even in the popcorn aisle. 


Blamed it on myself. Perhaps in the throws of my own stresses, I was seeing the world a little less “glass half full.” So I got all Sarah Ban Breathnach and Pay it Forward on myself, aiming to spread “simple abundance” of comfort and joys towards others when they least expected (or, deserved) it. An even broader smile to the cashier who was on her cell the entire time. A friendlier—and louder—than normal “have a good day” to the waiter who merely pointed, and grunted “refill?”  Holding a door for those behind me, despite my nose being nearly broken by the person who only seconds ago let it slam in my face.



Smiling, Phase I

I’ve read articles about studies that prove the endorphin-releasing benefits behind a smile, contributing to better moods and even enhancing immune systems. I recalled quotes about smiling and how the whole world smiles with you. Turning that frown upside down.


Yes, I would forge on, despite the rudeness that surrounded my every purchase. Mary Tyler Moore turned the whole world on with her smile and darn it, I will too.


Well, I’ll try my best.


Then I realized people STILL looked at me like a deer in headlights when I grinned or said hello: is she up to something? About to rob the place and trying to throw me off? Is she flirting? Is she on something? Nice got tiring. The deadpan expressions of runway models were all around me, just often donning sweats instead of Chanel. 



Frowning, Phase II (Welcome, F-word)


So I got dark. Putting money on the counter instead of a clerk’s hands kind of dark. Hah. I ordered at restaurants and didn’t even look at the waitress. How ‘bout that! Watch out, world. Warm woolen mittens and cute little kittens . . . bah! Giggling children? Nope, for they too, will grow up to become a frowner gone wild. A frown for a frown.


And then something strange happened. Dare I say, I became one of Them. The F word (frown) crept in faster than mold on forgotten portabellas in the crisper. I frowned in the mere anticipation of rudeness. I cut off other drivers because, hey, they proabablywouldacutmeoffanyway. I frowned for no reason than to frown. I became a Botox surgeons dream.


For a week. 

Happiness, Found

Somewhere between dark daggers of defiance and tip toeing through the tulips, reality sets in—or should set in. It’s that spot that’s overflowing with decorum, smiles, and caring actions. Where people extend genuine expressions of pleasantry and common-sense courtesy, mixed in, of course, with the ability to deal with those sometimes crazy, everyday moments we all experience. You know those people, and those moments.


Just thinking about them should be enough to make anyone smile. 


–Jennifer Lilley, 34, says that only severely tangled hangers and burnt coffee rank as close seconds to rude folks on her list of F-words (frown words).  Otherwise, she recently called the 800# on a commercial truck’s “how am I driving” sticker to report his GOOD driving habits. She lives with her husband in Freehold, NJ.