The American Half Smile
“Peace begins with a smile.”Mother Teresa
I’ve perfected it. It is known around the world as the American half-smile. It is a smile that does not reach your eyes. It is faking kindness for a second to be considered a polite person.
I grew up in New York where you don’t have eye contact or smile at anyone – just in case they suddenly have the urge to lunge at you, steal your money and slit your throat. I had to learn the half smile when I moved to California. It is a dead giveaway that you are American. Most cultures do not have this.
In China, Russia, and Eastern Europe , people don’t smile on the street. It is impolite to show emotions in public to strangers. Smiling at strangers make others question your motives or your sanity.
Before the Beijing Olympics, the Chinese authorities wanted to get more people to smile . Their approach was to encourage Olympic stewards to clench a chopstick between their teeth to develop their smile muscles.Russian border guards were also instructed to be less intimidating and smile more to be more welcoming to visitors. The French tourist authorities also occasionally attempt similar measures. In Norway and Finland they say when a stranger on the street smiles at you, he is insane, drunk or American.
When I was younger and spending a summer on Mykonos, I moved into a house with other people. I immediately introduced myself. I was going to be living with them. “You’re American yeah?” said the very cute Australian guy. “Yes, I guess you can tell by my accent.“ He replied that only an American would walk into a room and introduce themselves to everybody.
Studies blame our friendliness on the immigrants. They say that countries with less homogenous populations learn to smile and get along with all different kinds of people.
Also Americans love their white straight teeth. By and large, the American dental care is far superior to most countries. Not everyone in the world flosses. We flash our smiles around like the Amex cards that a few non-American businesses take. Un-naturally white, perfectly straight-toothed smiles have “U.S.A.” written all over them.