A recent post over at Chez Loulou has gotten me thinking about the role of smiling in French culture and American culture.
Loulou just got back from a stay in the States, and writes:
First, there's the smile.
Wow! I guess I've always been aware of how often Americans smile, but it had somehow slipped my mind. I mean, everyone smiles. At seemingly everything.
Her take on it is neutral, but she has clearly become accustomed to the more reserved French facial expressions.
I, on the other hand, truly miss the American smile. And reading Loulou's post, entitled Not So Subtle Differences Between America and France, made me remember my own rather painful experience with adjusting my personality and behavior to fit into French standards.
I used to be a big smiler. But somewhere along the line in France, I figured out that big smilers were sometimes taken for big idiots. And over the years, I have definitely changed my smiling habits.
Part of the change was in reaction to remarks from my husband, who just can't stand the American tradition of "smiling big" for photos. A few other smile-related comments came up in our relationship, but I'm not going to splay them all over this blog. It was all very unsettling to me -- I had never imagined that smiling could be subject to criticism.
Starting to teach college-age students in 1995 also modified my smile quotient -- the constant cheery and "up" attitude that I had used teaching in the USA seemed to confuse and bemuse them. I learned that to be taken seriously, I had to act at least somewhat serious.
But mainly, my smile subsided as a gradual part of fitting in, of acting like the people around me.
And this all makes me feel rather sad.