Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Of smiles and simpletons

Smile, they say, and the world smiles along with you. Smiles spread sunshine.
Or, as I prefer to think of it, smile and everyone wonders what you're up to.
I don't smile enough, it's a fact. I laugh quite a lot. That's because I've got a very dry—almost bordering on dark—sense of humor. I like caustic, sardonic, pissed-off humor, so there's always something that tickles my funny bone. I have no problem laughing.
Smiling, however—that's a different story. I've always considered smiling to go hand-in-hand with stupid, simple humor and the happy-go-lucky idiots that possess it. Y'know, the sort of fools who laugh at "Full House" or "Everybody Loves Raymond," and think that Tim Allen is a comic genius. Forrest Gump would have nothing on these folks.
If they're not the sort of bumpkins that happily cackle at the moronic gutter swill that so often passes for American sitcoms, then people who smile a lot so often turn out to be really arrogant. It's as if they're saying, "hey, world, nothing you do can faze me." I make a habit of shoulder-barging these types of people just to knock them down a peg, just to remind them that life isn't all roses and blue sky. I consider it doing them a favor.
If you want me to smile, you've got to give me a reason to.
You see, I am atypical for an American in that I don't automatically assume a level of friendliness with strangers. As Polly Platt wrote in her book French or Foe?, with regard to the French: "Stranger (├ętranger) means danger (danger). The two words rhyme in French too. There isn't even a word in the language that means 'friendly' with its resonance of spontaneous warmth toward everybody." Platt also mentions her French son-in-law who once told her: "You Americans have banalized the smile. Americans smile all the time, always the same. For us there must be a reason ... When I am introduced to another man, if he smiles, then I think to myself that he is one of three things: he is making fun of me, he is hypocritical or he's very stupid. If it's a woman, there's a fourth possibility—she wants to flirt."
All very true, in my opinion. Forgive me, dear reader, for daring to agree with anything in French culture. But I do agree very much with the French on this. Smiles have to occur for a good reason, for a shared joke or moment, or something else of an intimate, personal nature. Smiling for no reason, in public? Just makes you look simple-minded or arrogant, depending on the look in your eyes.
I learned a long time ago that my smile is a signal to people that they should take advantage of me. Like the French, and very much like dragons themselves, I started to equate "stranger" with "danger." Needless to say, I soon changed tactics. These days, total strangers receive a glaring, "don't-even-think-of-fucking-with-me" look. It works. People leave me alone, which is how I like it.
This does not, dear reader, mean that I am incapable of friendliness. If you were standing next to me at the train station, for instance, and started talking to me about the Red Sox, running, draconity/dragons or anything else dear to my heart, I'd talk to you for hours. I'd ask for your e-mail address to continue the conversation. That sort of thing actually happened once. I gave one guy my usual "piss off" scowl. But I was wearing my Red Sox cap. The fellow turned around and asked me, "hey, are you a Red Sox fan?!" I was soon talking with him as if I'd known him for years, delighted with his company.
It's also why I adore the Ramones. You never saw any of those dudes smile. They didn't need to. Their loud, fast, no-nonsense punk-cum-surf rock was joyous enough. If they had smiled, it would have been overkill.
Again, give me a reason to give you a smile and I will. Tell me that you're a dragon trapped in this life too. Tell me that you want me to be your running coach. Tell me that you'll give me £5 million so that I can live the rest of my life in complete resplendence.
Otherwise, like the French, you will find me difficult to deal with, even if I do speak your language.


kristen said...

Your posts make me smile because I like your "caustic, sardonic, pissed-off humor".

I'm personally a fan of sarcasm--that's the basis for my sense of humor.

I tend to smile a lot, but not all the time. I think smiles are contagious and can make a person's day. But that's my cheesiness coming in. I appreciate it when people smile at me, so I try to return the favor to others.

I'd hate run into you in a dark alley ;-)

Nightdragon said...

Heh. C'mon, if you ran across me in a dark alley, and I didn't know who you were, I'd just ignore you. I'd walk by as if you weren't even there, minding my own business. I never start trouble.

What I said about shoulder-barging smiling people out of my way: that was just tongue-in-cheek. I don't really do that! I pick my battles more carefully than that and only when I absolutely have to. ;)