Black Cat

Going not gentle into that middle age.

Smile, Things Can’t Be That Bad

Filed under: Expat,It's Different When I Do It,Rant — 24 October 2007 @ 3:23 pm

Redzilla writes one of my favorite blogs. She has an Attitude. Her Bullshit-O-Meter is finely tuned. She hates Bush. (Are those last two sentences redundant?) She makes sweaters to keep her hairless cats warm in the winter. I enjoy almost everything she writes. But.

One recent post raised my hackles and put me into Rant Mode. She complains that “Professor Zombie,” a colleague at an American University, wears a bitter, sour face every day and she wishes he’d put a bag over his head or kill himself in order to spare her the agony of having to look at him. I don’t know if Professor Zombie spews venom at everyone around him while he’s frowning. Redzilla doesn’t say. She seems mainly to resent the fact that he scowls and doesn’t join in the daily frivolity that is expected when one is in the company of another American.

Can you guess where this Rant is going? In the 12 years that I have lived in Germany, not one person has come up to me and said “Smile, things can’t be that bad!” No German friend has informed me that the expression on my face is unacceptable. No German stranger has instructed me to change the look of my face.

“Smile, things can’t be that bad!” I would be standing in line at an American grocery store, waiting to pay for my purchases, and the person behind the counter would say that to me. I would be lost in my own thoughts waiting for an acquaintance to show up for a date, and their greeting was “Smile, things can’t be that bad!”

It used to really piss me off. I guess it still does.

Redzilla, I’d like to meet this Professor Zombie. I’ll bet he acquired his permanent scowl because you and every other American he has ever met greeted him with “Smile, things can’t be that bad!” I’ll bet he has some interesting things to talk about. Have you ever asked him what’s going on in his life? Have you ever asked him about his hobbies or his pets or his favorite television show or his opinions on politics? Have you ever asked him if things are ok in his life? Do you give a shit about him?

No, it’s pretty obvious from your blog post that you don’t.

Americans want other people to be pleasant and wear a smile at all times. If they don’t, we get a scowl on our face and say unpleasant things about (and often to) them. No one is allowed to insult us to our face. But we insult other people with glee behind their backs. This, dear, is called hypocrisy. It pisses me off. It’s unkind. It cuts off any possibility of real communication. It means that we will never be friends, because we will never get to know each other.

It’s just one more reason why I’m glad I’m living in Germany.

[Addendum:] OK, in the interests of fairness and “it’s different when I do it” and “the things that piss me off in other people are usually the things I don’t want to admit in myself”, I’m admitting that I make fun of certain people instead of — uh — what? accepting them as valuable human beings? But, when I make fun of them, they really are bozos, but when you make fun of them you’re not being fair. Yeah.

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  1. Jen:

    This also pisses me off about American culture. Usually when people tell me to smile, I have to refrain from punching that person in the face.

    Recently, at school, one of the secretaries brightly informed me, “You’re not allowed to sign out until you smile!” I was like, dude, you break up your second fight in a week and see how smiley YOU are. I said, instead of punching her, “I’ll try.” An administrator overheard this and chimed in, “You don’t have to TRY to smile, just DO it!” Kill!

  2. Cissy Lewis:

    What pisses me off:

    People that hate people they don’t know because they dislike things they do.

    People that lump all people of a nation together as if every person is exactly someone they dislike.

    Good Lord!
    Give me a break!

  3. IAMB:

    I’m not much a smiling type at all… in fact, when I force a smile for a photo it looks more like a death grimace. My friends have learned that it’s just me, and they’ve learned to read the more subtle indicators of my mood. Very few strangers tell me to smile anymore, and most of the ones that do get the “I am smiling… can’t you tell?” response.

  4. Snow_Leopard:

    Sad enough, that all bad rumors about Americans are true, isn’t it? World-championates of faking everything? Yes, fake money (forgott Lehman?), fake equality of opportunity (still problems of poor and rich? eh?), fake believers (Bush pray and betrays in public, so what is there to believe in? In lies?), fake boobs (yes, we dare to write about it here!), fake friends (don’t turn around, then they start talking ’bout you!) and a fake white pop-star who died recently (or was this fake, too???).
    Sorry, when I’m not just “lumping up” but stacking You onto the pile of the rest: you have no opinion and there is just yawning, hollow emptiness as a sign of a fake encouragement to fight for fake fellows!
    Just cut of Your last nerve to the common sense of the rest of the world an have a brake!
    Have a Break – Have a KitKat!
    or I could have written:
    Have a Brake – Have a TikTak!
    Doesn’t make sense to You, but may be You find out, why it sounds funny to me, here in ol’Germany…
    Greets, Snow!

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