Several years ago a friend mentioned her new habit of looking waiters and cashiers in the eye when she spoke to them. She said she realized that they were always looking at her, but that she was looking at her bag, or the table, or just somewhere off in space. She was happier now that she was acknowledging and actually engaging with those who were helping her. I, too, had recently become an aggressive smiler – grinning at everyone, all the time, and I was also much cheerier and more open to the people around me. It only took me 45 years or so to adopt this ridiculously obvious habit.
My grandmother on the crazy side had a full-blown facial tic that caused her to look like she was smiling maniacally all the freaking time. She would stretch the corners of her mouth back, show her parted teeth and squinch up her eyes – kind of like The Joker if that helps with the visual. This happened maybe 6-7 times a minute. A minute. And while I can assure you that this woman was most definitely not smiling that much, everywhere she went people smiled at her. I can remember being very little and hearing my Mother and Aunt chuckling because Grandma did not like or understand why the shopkeepers or gas station attendants or anyone really, was acting so damn familiar with her. But she was “smiling;” she looked like the kind of person she absolutely was not.
I have one of those faces that looks bitchy in repose. When all of my features relax, or when I’m concentrating, or not actively engaging my facial muscles, I appear unapproachable or maybe downright mean. There was a time when I cultivated this look. I guess I thought it made me look tough yet sexy, or bad but intriguing like Pat Benatar or Madonna. I made 80s bitch-face for 20 years.
Then one night during my power suit decade, I stopped at a Quickie Mart after work to buy cigarettes (which added to the working-girl-gone-rogue vibe). The cashier rang up my purchase then looked at me with his head tilted and said, “You smell.”
What? I don’t smell!
You smell! Smell!
The cashier then turned to his co-worker and said something quickly in another language that uses lots of hand gestures. The co-worker stepped to the counter and said, “He wants you to SMILE. He says smile!” His friend nodded his head and said “Yes! You smell more and it makes you nice!”
Three things came from that night. First, I tell the story all the time because it’s awesome and sweet and funny. Second, I smile all the time, at everyone. 18 years ago some dude from a faraway land working at a Quickie Mart on a busy road off I-75 told me I smell and has since changed everything about how I greet life and people, and how other people perceive me.
And third, I stopped smoking, because it’s possible that I did smell.