Start a smile movement

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 gone completely. 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, 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!

🙂 🙂

 

61 comments

  1. I love this post, Zephyr ji! I agree that Americans smile very easily and even if some people say it’s all fake; it makes me feel good! It’s sad that even neighbors find it difficult and awkward to smile, let alone, speak to each other!

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    1. Exactly! Even if it is phony smile it elicits a smile in return and yours need not be phony right? That itself is enough to lift your spirits. The turning up of noses at neighbours is very common in Delhi, where your clothes, shoes and car make you eligible for receiving smiles from your neighbours 🙂

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  2. Oh what a lovely post on my favorite “Mantra”. Yes I too am a great practitioner of the “Art of smiling” and my smiles are growing broader day by day 🙂 I feel great when I can bring a smile from a stranger or someone sad 🙂
    Cheers on that!

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  3. A great post to kick start the new year! I agree we Indians are a bit stingy when it comes to spreading smiles. Maybe we don’t like to waste precious things 😉 But seriously, we can use some more of smiles and cheer especially since life for many Indians can be quite challenging and tough. I find the more higher one goes in socio-economic ranking in India the less the person tends to smile. Too broad a generalization? O well, sometimes I am allowed to do so, I think 🙂 Keep smiling. By the way, your experience with the non-smiling dentist says a lot about how “service” sector in most of India works.

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    1. Yes, you must be familiar with the Tamil phrase of pearls scattering 🙂 During one particularly difficult year during my teens in college, I had started smiling and laughing a lot. It was forced in the beginning but soon became natural and a second nature and most of all, it felt GOOD! My spirits lifted with every smile and so it stayed with me. I agree with you about people smiling less as they ascend the socio economic ladder. And no, it is not a generalisation. I have seen it too. Either they feel too superior or too scared that they would be sponged off for appearing mellow, but it is largely true. As for the service sector, you should go to the vegetable market or any retail shop in Delhi to find out how smug and supercilious the shopkeepers can be — as if they are doing you a favour by selling their wares, at least till you become familiar to them, that is if you still want to their shop 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  4. A great post to kick start the new year! I agree we Indians are a bit stingy when it comes to spreading smiles. Maybe we don’t like to waste precious things 😉 But seriously, we can use some more of smiles and cheer especially since life for many Indians can be quite challenging and tough. I find the more higher one goes in socio-economic ranking in India the less the person tends to smile. Too broad a generalization? O well, sometimes I am allowed to do so, I think 🙂 Keep smiling. By the way, your experience with the non-smiling dentist says a lot about how “service” sector in most of India works.

    Like

  5. When I was growing up in India, I would smile and briefly nod with familiar people (neighbors, someone’s parent/cousin) or do a quick namaste if the person was much older (60s or above). With strangers, I never smiled or nodded – because no one else did it, I never learnt to do it, and we do learn these things by watching others. Strangers were always regarded with suspicion.

    After I came to the US 20 years ago, I was surprised to see everyone on the street, in the malls, anyone who passes you make direct eye contact and say a quick ‘hi’ or smile or nod. I soon began to get the hang of it and started to enjoy it and it soon became second nature to me. It instantly makes you feel safer and even a little happier. You are part of a community simply by acknowledging the other’s presence (rather than ignoring each other like cattle grazing:) Thank you for bringing up this important point.

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    1. You are right. We absorb and imitate what others, especially elders in our circle do. And with so many warnings not to smile at strangers, it is natural for many to stop smiling altogether. Leave alone strangers, today we don’t even smile at our neighbours – granted we don’t know them personally, but we do know they live in our building, our floor and yet we hesitate. Perhaps we are afraid that they would become over-friendly? I wonder. I love the way the Americans greet you, as if they are really happy to see you. It might mean nothing but the cheerfulness is contagious, isn’t it? I loved your analogy of cattle grazing 🙂

      Like

  6. Ah! A post after my own heart! I am the eternal loony – from ‘young loony’ to ‘old loony’ 🙂 I have a feeling that the problem is even more deep-rooted than that. I think we people are more oriented to ‘laughing at’ someone than ‘laughing with’. So, in all probability, the people we smile at think that we are laughing AT them and, quite likely, check to see if there is a button open OR a zipper undone when we are out of sight 🙂

    AND, by God, we are a serious people. We have SO many holy cows that you can hardly crack a joke about anything without being dubbed an irreverent, unserious never-do-well 🙂 Life is stern, Life is earnest and all of us ought to be angst-ridden, so WHAT can you find to smile about? 🙂

    Well – the problem is that I am and always will be an irreverent, unserious never-do-well 🙂

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    1. Ah, the world needs ‘irreverent, unserious never-do-well’ like you Suresh. Yes, we are too sensitive to humour and laughter and wonder if we are the butt of some sarcasm or pun and tend to clam up. But when we laugh at ourselves people are thrilled to laugh with us, or rather AT us, right? Hope this year makes us all a little more relaxed and wont to smile at people and make them realise that we are smiling because it is good to be alive. Wish you a wonderful year ahead, Suresh 🙂

      Like

  7. alkagurha · · Reply

    What a lovely post to begin a new year. I am pretty generous when it comes to smiles. Sometimes strangers think I am nuts. Your dentist needs a smile implant.
    Wish you a happy smily year.

    Like

    1. Ha ha! Smile implant! I love that term. Yes, she was so pretty and a smile would have made her look gorgeous but when she finally smiled, it looked like the satan’s grin because of the reason she did 😀 Wish you a happy and laughter filled year too, my dear.

      Like

  8. Smile and you make the world smile. But you are right! We are all miserly with our smiles. Who knows how much your smile would mean to someone else, even a stranger? Here’s a fun post that I did about smiling and Indians. Don’t know if you had read it earlier: http://deepa-duraisamy.blogspot.in/2012/12/quirky-travels.html

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    1. I had not read your delightful post earlier but read and smiled and smiled. Thanks for the link. I can hear your tinkling laughter amd sometimes call you just to hear that. Wish you smile filled year 🙂

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  9. Why indeed, are we miserly with our smiles? After all, they are free. Here’s hoping that more and more people will realize the beneficial effects of smiling. 🙂

    Happy new year, Zephyr!

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    1. Sorry about the delayed response, Manju. Let’s hope we all smile more, even to ourselves and when we are by ourselves. I have begun to 🙂

      Like

  10. When I go on walks, its only the British who nod and smile, fellow Indians even refuse to acknowledge, as if I am invisible.
    And Doctors… In my entire journey I have met only a very few who smile
    Thought provoking post

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    1. You said it, most of the time people act as we are invisible, don’t they? And when you smile, they look uncomfortable or hastily look away. 😦

      Like

  11. And a lovely title too!

    Like

    1. Thanks again.

      Like

  12. Agree with Richa. Indians whole heartedly project themselves kind and cheerful, smiling at every tom dick harry when they are out of India. I was actually shocked when I had been to US to witness Indians in the shopping malls exchanging so much affection through smiles.

    It is wonderful to read two posts on the same message. And the strange similarity in our posts is that we have chosen pictures of animals smiling. It was a good irony to indicate how insane humans are towards a smile. Again I much appreciate your easy effortless writing and the fun attached with every word and punctuation. Thanks so much for leaving a comment in pages from serendipity. Honoured 🙂 Please keep visiting.

    Like

    1. Whoa Nandhini! Thanks for the words of appreciation. The other day I was standing in the metro and I gave a bright smile to a young girl who was sitting. She immediately asked me if I wanted the seat, without so much as a smile back. I replied with a wider smile that I wanted a smile from her and then she suddenly began talking, as if a barrier had broken. Sometimes it takes one to smile persistently to elicit a smile in return.

      Strangely Indians are reluctant to part with a smile — pearls won’t scatter if you smiled — we say in Tamil when someone is reluctant to smile 🙂

      Like

  13. Lovely Blog as usual! When I first got in this foreign country where I knew nobody and a smile was the only thing I had to offer, well I made a whole lot of friends! It sure went a long way for me. Its weird that we Indians in India turn our face away suspiciously when a stranger smiles and eagerly talk to unknown ppl hoping they stop being strangers when we are out of India! Was off blogging for quite a bit..do check out my blog if you can stop by anytime!

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    1. Welcome back Richa! The thing you have mentioned about what Indians generally DON’T do while in India and DO once they leave it is the subject of my other post ‘Insiders or Outsiders?’ Do read that and comment please!

      A smile is so easy and inexpensive way of making friends as you have mentioned, and yet we shy away. One intriguing thin I have noticed is that after a couple of times after I smile at them, some people stop to ask me if they know me!! But that’s very rare, of course. 🙂

      I will surely hop in to your blog and see what goodies you have for me!

      Like

      1. Thanks! I ll certainly read the other blog too. 🙂 🙂 🙂

        Like

  14. Loved this post!

    I’m probably rated as a loony too, I give a wide grin every time I see people I’m “meeting” only for the second time. Yes, mostly you don’t get a smile back, but what an awesome feeling it is when someone does smile back.. especially kids!

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    1. Welcome here, smartassbride! It is nice to hear that you are one of the ‘loony ones’! And yes, when they smile back it feels really good, as if we have accomplished some good deed, isn’t it? 🙂

      Like

  15. Jumped here from Lazy Pineapple’s dessert err blog 😉 … I would have said good bye to the doc if she is not friendly. I can tolerate the pain but not unfriendly doctors. As far people smiling back, I have different experience, I have seen most people smile back when I do …

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    1. Welcome here Lakshmi Rajan! I am glad that you have a different experience in this department. Smile on! 🙂

      The dentist was conveniently located. if there is one thing that is annoying, it is having to go a long way for a torture session! 😀

      Like

  16. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Ridhima Capoor. Ridhima Capoor said: RT @vineetrajan: Mom's latest on the power of smiling! http://bit.ly/cD9Kvg #cybernag […]

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  17. Soooooooo true…I see it happen all the time..Though, I must confess I used to be part of the Doubting brigade, till I started indulging in one too many smiles just to spread the cheer around..And I have seen similar responses..But then I think, “you don’t smile back, your loss buster, not mine..” 🙂

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    1. Oh, I forgot to mention in the post that the young people are the main ‘doubting brigade’! I am glad you decided to smile that glorious smile of yours and like you say, it is the other person’s loss if they can’t return a sunny smile! Smile on!

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  18. LOVED THE POST,,, love your blog name EVEN MORE!

    cannot agree more with the content of this entry… Im a random smiler too, but ive never consciously stopped to statistically note down the responses I get. Now that I read yours, I do recollect some wierd unresponsive attempts (no attempts rather)!

    Thanx for sharing… ill pop in and out, time allowing to check out some more! Ive a feeling, imma gonna like ur stuff 🙂

    Like

    1. Welcome here Hayaah! Thanks for the comment and the appreciation of the blog 🙂

      It is sometimes disheartening to see no response from those I smile at, but the eternal optimist in me hopes that the next one will… and they do, in the ratio I mentioned 😀

      Do visit again!

      Like

  19. Hey dear! u have a nice blog. i have subscribed for ur posts. also promoting this article in indiblogger.

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    1. Welcome here Tanu, and thanks for the appreciation! I just came back from yours 🙂 Thanks a ton for promoting the post on Indivine and the subscription too! 🙂

      Like

  20. There is a saying in Hindi’ HANSE TO PHANSE” . Probably this may be a reason for not reciprocating to smile by some people.But, one thing is sure, ‘Smile is a curve which sets many things straight’!

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    1. That’s right. isn’t it? So that’s why people think twice before smiling back! And yes a smile makes everyone it touches feel good!

      Like

  21. I’ve noticed smiles can be of many types. Some I reply in kind, others can give a chill. Minds’t you, I never smile at dentists.
    Enjoyable post as always – except for the horror at the beginning 🙂

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    1. Oh, yes! the spine chilling smiles! Thankfully I have not seen them in real life, only in movies. 🙂 Good for you not to smile at dentists! I finally understood what the poster meant: the smile increases the ‘face’ value of the patient!

      And the horror part: I guess all those horror posts in Beyond the Blog have rubbed off on mine! 😀

      Like

  22. Smile on my dear. Hope you land among more pleasant people. I landed here from Lazy pineapple.
    And a Visit to a dentist can be like this too.http://theholylama.blogspot.com/2010/02/always-leads-to-another.html

    Like

  23. Hmm……I can not really agree with that. In my experience I’d say 4 out of 5(if not all 5!;-D) would smile back warmly when I smile at them and return the greeting in case I wish them !

    But a lovely post as always…..such fun to read !

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    1. Aren’t you a lucky one! Maybe they don’t like my looks 😦

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  24. loved your rant!

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    1. Welcome here Magiceye! Thanks for the comment! 🙂

      Like

  25. Lovely post! I hate dentists but I like to smile 🙂 And like LP says above, in the UK, most people are friendly (even if it IS fake) and smile and greet strangers. Its nice, sometimes tiring, but all the same , a very civilised way of living.

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    1. Welcome here Pallavi!
      Even my apprehension of dentists didn’t stop me from smiling at her and yet she didn’t return it 😦 You said it. it is a civilized thing to smile back when someone smiles or greets you. So what if it is put on, a smile is a smile and can be catching!

      Like

  26. I’ll accept that earlier I was a bit wary of people I don’t know smiling at me, but I must also add that I wasn’t the morose one. Depending on the person, I always made it a point to smile back ( even though my confused expression was evident). 😛
    Now, with A Jr I’ve learnt how easy it is to smile! 🙂 He’s a very happy child and spreads the happiness everywhere he goes and extends it to everyone he meets. Because of him I’ve learnt to smile at random strangers more easily.
    The ones who don’t smile back at him must be the real wasted ones. Who’ve lost the meaning and importance of a smile, which is worth more than a million bucks. 🙂

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    1. That was a very honest statement Varsha! Some of the young people I smile at do look confused probably wondering if they know me and have forgotten me! 😀

      Come to think of it, kids are great teachers when it comes to making friends. Perhaps I too had learnt to smile easily at strangers because of the brats who were very happy kids. and you are right. anyone who can’t smile at a kid is really a sad specimen of a human being!

      Like

  27. A comment by me won’t do honor do this post so i dug up this poem just for your lovely blog 🙂

    Smiling is contagious,
    you catch it like the flu,
    When someone smiled at
    me today, I started smiling too.
    I passed around the corner,
    and someone saw my grin –
    When he smiled I
    realized, I’d passed it on to him.

    I thought about that smile,
    then I realized its worth,
    A single smile, just like mine,
    could travel round the earth.
    So, if you feel a smile begin,
    don’t leave it undetected –
    Let’s start an epidemic quick
    and get the world infected!!!

    Like

    1. That was a lovely poem WJ! I am saving it in my archives! But you know something? We Indians are terrified of epidemics too!! 😀 😀

      But I agree that when we keep the smile on, the recipient has to smile back or appear rude (or look away, as they sometimes do!) 🙂

      Like

  28. It’s not the case here, I can say that. People smile generously…I smile at everyone that I make eye contact with, and rarely do people ignore that. I have noticed a couple of times that Indians here don’t smile back if I smile at them, they just turn away.

    Hope all went well with root canal, if at all you decided to get that done. Take care.

    Like

    1. See, my observation was right about Indians, wasn’t it? At least in Pardes, they should smile at a compatriot, shouldn’t they? Sharbori has rightly said that we are a sombre race! 🙂 But we shall not give up, shall we? Keep smiling!

      Yes, she scared me enough to get it done and I am fine. Thanks for the concern:)

      Like

  29. Grond · · Reply

    My personal experience tells me to disagree…

    I’ve always smiled at my neighbours, and they smile back at me… If they’ve noticed me before I’ve noticed them, there’s a smile on their face I happily return. Even if we’re passing on the road or on the stairs (we sadly don’t have an elevator, or there would be conversations too :))

    Police officers, esp. traffic policemen, do return a smile, atleast with me… Perhaps it is because of the ‘Thank You’ I punctuate the end of our conversations with. (Near the office where I once worked, it seems that the local cops were not allowed to disturb the staff that worked in the complex. I was stopped at a roadblock near the gate and searched. When I removed my ID for the complex, the cop started stammering “you should’ve said you work here, I wouldn’t have stopped you…” I just said, “Sir, by searching me, you were doing your duty. By stopping and letting you search me, I was doing mine.” The guffaws that followed and the smile on his face after that, whenever I met him, were genuine.)

    The smile may be minimal, unfelt, perhaps even fake. But no matter what, the lips do curve into a shape akin to an upwards arc from a flat line, and to a flat line if the curve faces downwards…

    You just keep at it… Always smile, no matter what.

    Regards,
    Grond

    Like

    1. Oh Grond! I am so happy to hear your experiences! Yes, when we take the trouble to sympathise with the public servants and show some compassion towards their duties, they respond positively and even remember you. (That includes tipping too, btw!) Neighbours do smile if they have seen you or know you of course. Like LP says, it is the older generation that smiles more readily and often the youngsters ignore them; some do smile and even greet! you probably fall in that category.

      Did I sound like I am giving up? Nah! I will try to increase my ratio from 1:4 to 5:5! 😀

      Like

  30. I know exactly what you mean…most people in India are wary of strangers giving them a smile. My experience has been quite good in UK…People smile a lot and also say hello….this is mostly the older generation…the youngsters could care less…

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    1. True, LP, it is the older generation that smiles more, because they are looking for some company, a warm smile in return, whatever. In the West people readily smile at and greet strangers even if it is a mechanical action. So what? A smile is contagious, as Witty Jester has pointed out in comment. Perhaps we Indians are mortally afraid of contagion! 😀

      Like

  31. that is so true; we are a solemn faced nation. we rarely smile at each other, least so at ourselves. I discovered I smile so rarely that I do force myself to smile at times. I also experiment with smiling at restaurants, shopping malls, airport, etc and usually the other people’s expression softens and they smile back.

    Like

    1. It is so good to hear that like me you also don’t give up easily. But middle-aged ladies don’t get the same reaction from those we smile at, I guess! the youngsters most often look away in confusion or amusement! I agree about the restaurants and airline counters though. It is they who are supposed to smile at us, but they at least smile back when we do! Let’s continue smiling! 🙂

      Like

  32. ah, my lady…. 🙂 thats a big one for you…. i, actually get the opposite reaction, i get smiled back to.. but that may be because i am a pretty young thingy 😀 my fav is to smile at traffic police men, waiters and folks at counters.. smiles usually brighten them up… and saying thanks too… i have seen waiters speeding up the service when i say thanks and smile for even pouring water into my glass (much to the amusement of my companion) 😛

    oh well… smile and keep smiling.. 🙂

    psst: did u get ur root canal done??

    Like

    1. Your smile is a great energy booster my dear Ratzzz! i love it! I am so glad this post is eliciting response in the negative! For once negative is positive! And yes, PYTs get all the smiles they want even if they don’t give! 😀

      psst… what do you think? 😀 suffice to say that I left my dentist smiling widely! 😀 😀

      Like

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