I am a sucker for smiles and the brighter, the more I love it. Which is why I wonder, why we are so miserly with our smiles. After all, it costs us nothing. And for all you know, it might brighten up someone’s day and make that person smile at someone else and thus create a smile ripple. Life is grim as it is. Why make it grimmer by being grumpy and morose? Today, more than ever we need those bright pearlies, to make the world a better place. Do you know that when you smile even when you don’t feel too cheerful, it actually makes you feel good? Don’t believe me? Go on, make a New Year resolution to smile away and find out for yourself.
I had written this post after a particularly traumatic visit to a dentist in Delhi some years ago, which had set off the questions raised above. I am sharing it again 🙂
A visit to the dentist is a pain at best and a torture at worst. But I was not so worried since all I had was a loose cap that needed fixing. So I entered the room breezily with a smile on my face.
The dentist was young – probably in her mid-thirties. The poster behind her said, “Smile; it increases your face value.” I looked again at her. She nodded curtly. No smile. I wondered if the poster was meant only for her patients. I smiled again, a little tentatively this time; she didn’t smile back but motioned silently with her hand for me to sit on the dentist’s chair.
I was nervous by now. I told her about the cap. She didn’t show any indication of having heard me but busily peered into my mouth and started tapping the teeth with a small metal thing. Tap..tap..’Does that hurt?’ I winced; the way she was tapping, even a perfectly healthy tooth would have hurt! As it was, it was a wonder that it didn’t come loose. “That one is completely gone. It needs a root canal,” she pronounced. I noticed the ghost of a smile on her face for the first time since I entered the room. ‘Money, money money…’, her mind must have sung, I am sure.
She did some more excavation deep inside. I could have sworn that she poked at my gums since it ached something fierce. “That’s a deep cavity. I need an X-ray,” she said briskly asking her assistant to prepare for one. The smile had widened into the grin (of satan?).
“The cap…”I croaked weakly.
“Oh that’s just a two minute job,” she almost sang, still smiling.
Now I understood. The poster was meant for her patients. For unless they smiled, how could she see all those wonderful money making opportunities inside their mouth? Bah….
Aren’t dentists supposed to be friendly people who chatted with their patients to put them at ease, smiling and reassuring?
Why just blame the dentist? We Indians don’t smile readily. Americans are known to be a nation of ‘smilers’ that way. It could be that we are a nation of serious people. Or may be it is the innate suspicion in our minds about the motive of the smile. I don’t know. In Tamil we say, ‘Sirithal muthu udirndhu viduma?’meaning, ‘Will your pearls scatter if you smile?’
When I go for my morning walk I meet almost the same people on the walking trail. There are many who are in my age group and some who are younger. The early morning air makes me feel good and benevolent and so I smile at people whom I come across. I am surprised at the responses I get: one woman just looks down and hurries past; two young girls look at each other startled, and ignore me. I hear them giggle once they pass me. ‘That must be a loony lady,’ they probably are telling each other.
One day, a woman about my age got into the lift. She lived on one of the upper floors and I smiled brightly at her. She simply turned her face away! I have tried this with young children, teenagers, young adults and old people in my neighbourhood with almost similar results. We are neighbours, for heaven’s sake! For all I know I must be known as the ‘old woman who is slightly off her rocker!’
You will be surprised to know that four out of five people do not smile back. (That’s not a from any survey but the statistic collected through my personal experience over the years).
I was once in a ‘you first’ situation with a young man at the grocer’s. We kept stepping aside and into each other’s path, till I laughed at the sheer silliness of the incident. He looked reproachfully at me as if I had been doing it on purpose! It amazed me that he didn’t even smile. Isn’t it a normal reaction to at least smile when you are in a funny situation? I mean can’t you see the humour in the situation? Maybe he didn’t see it as funny; perhaps he had had a bad day; perhaps he was not well; perhaps he was in a hurry and the delay upset him…
Oh, what the hell! Why am I making excuses for morose people?
‘Service with a smile’ – er…what is that? Never heard of it!
Sales people who are supposed to keep a smiling face look at you sullenly, as if wondering why you have come to spoil their day; public servants including the postman only smile if you tip/bribe them, otherwise they are rude and offensive. Even angels of mercy – the nurses most often are curt and impatient with their helpless wards. Florence Nightingale must be turning in her grave for sure.
It makes me wonder: Can we only laugh at people and not with them? Can we only see humour when the dig is directed at others? Can we only smile when we see some benefit accruing from the person we are smiling at? Why do we always look with suspicion when someone we don’t know smiles at us? Do we think they are out to rip us off or something? Have we so lost our sense of humour that funny situations don’t bring a smile to our lips?
Looking at all the smileys, LOLs, LMAOs and ROFLs in cyberspace, one would expect at least some smiles in real life while looking at real people.
And to reiterate, a spontaneous smile can brighten up the day for the boy who fills air in your tyres at the petrol pump; the woman who collects garbage every morning; the man who serves you at the tea stall in the bus stop….. Even if they are feeling grumpy and they don’t smile back, it would make them feel good. Go on try it. It is FREE!
P.S. This post was written when I still lived in Delhi. Correct me if I am wrong, but I feel that Mumbaikars are more ready with their smiles, which is at least partially borne out by Harshal aka Grond’s comment.
Wishing all my dear readers a very Happy New Year filled with the brightest smiles and hoping that we will have a lot to make us smile through 2015!