I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I suffer from a case of chronic bitchface, but I am also not one of those people whose face is smiley even when reading the likes of WebMd (heads-up, click the link at your own risk, and if you do, for your own sanity, try to avoid meddling with the symptom checker); my face’s resting position falls between contemplative and serious, and although I confess to being a more reflective, observant person by nature, by no means does my neutral-verging-on-worried default expression denote being a Debbie Downer. In turn, you can imagine how it gets my goat when strangers – literally random people in supermarkets and bookstores, parks and shopping malls – turn to me and tell me to smile. Um, rude, Stranger.
Last week in Trader Joe’s, I was walking up to the check-out area, trying to decide which line to join, when a lady hurried by, basket banging into knees and displays, and said with a bite, “Gee, would it kill ya to smile?” Although this was not the first time someone has randomly demanded I smack a smile on my face, I was taken aback, one, because she whipped me out of my own world – I was simply minding my own business, so why wasn’t she, I wondered – and, two, because I was not at all down in the dumps in the first place. Embarrassed, I turned away, and although I tried not to get too caught-up in what had just happened – after all, the lady seemed frazzled, as if she had been having a pretty shoddy day herself – it truly bothered me: Nobody tells this girl what to do with her face, and, most importantly, nobody tells this girl how to feel.
More than anything, adults who command you to smile are pitiful: It’s a shame that they are so ignorant to the nature of emotion they think they can judge someone’s internal environment by the position of their mouth. Little did the lady in Trader Joe’s know that I had just spent a wonderful afternoon in the park, smiling a lot. But in the same vein, what if I had just received upsetting medical news? What if I had just witnessed a puppy get hit by a car? What right does someone have to tell you how to look? No right at all.
On the other occasions, in response to “Smile!” commands, I have simply bared my teeth in the same way that a chimpanzee does when it’s angry, but from now on – regrettably, I’m sure this will not be the last time I encounter the Smile Police – I will respond (note the choice of respond, and not react) proactively by speaking the truth: If I’m having a bleugh kind of day, I’ll reply to Mr. or Mrs. Intrusive with a “Nope, no can do; these cramps are just too savage today,” or if I’m actually in a pleasant mood and simply in my thinking-zone, I’ll say something along the lines of… “you first, scumbag.”
What do you think about the Smile Police?
Has a stranger ever told you to smile? How did you respond?