Thursday, January 10, 2008

The fake smile

I’m a fan of the fake smile. It’s a necessary tool in the work world. The fake smile is the little grin that you use when you meet someone in the hall at work. It’s not genuine, it’s , nothing really except for a reflexive action in the muscles of your face. All in all it’s simply an acknowledgement. The fake smile says "Hi, you’re walking, I’m walking, I see you. I don’t know you or I barely know you but I’m acknowledging that you exist and am showing that I’m a friendly co-worker. After all we’re all in this together." Yes, one fake grin can convey all that.

I always use the fake grin – always. I use it with people I’m barely acquainted with but like, I use it with people I loathe, but who outrank me, hell I even use it on the cleaning lady and the guy who waters the plants. Problems arise however, when the fake smile is not reciprocated. These are the "non-smilers" and they’re inevitably cast as bitches and jerks. Is it too hard for them to flip that smile back at me? It’s really no different than if I had verbally said "hi" and they had ignored it and kept on walking. It’s just downright rude.

Now I’ve recently conquered one "non-smiler" and I’m pretty proud of that. It was this guy, pretty cute actually, who works a few rows down from me and I’d give him the fake smile, as I do to everyone, and he’d never reciprocate – NEVER! I determined after some study that perhaps he thought I was trying to hit on him and that thought might be a little repulsive to him- can’t really blame him there. A 30-something overweight mother isn’t exactly a catch and I’m sure given his good looks and the plethora of slutty straight out of college, laxative eating, size 2 model wannabees that work in the department down the hall, he’s had his fair share of come ons. So I trained myself to ignore him and stopped giving him the fake smile. I replaced the smile with disdain, and indifference and lo and behold, now he throws me the fake smile every time he sees me. I just have to be careful not to smile first, and only reciprocate his or else I might shift the balance back again.

Now you may be wondering why a person would spend so much mental energy on something as trivial as a fake smile. There are 2 answers to that. 1. Most of the time I have very little work to keep me busy so I’ve got the free time for such insane pursuits, 2. It’s not even really something I put a lot of thought into. It’s more like an instinct. I just do it, as do most people. We’re social creatures and there’s something in us that needs to nurture that interaction with others and that pushes us to seek acceptance from those around us.

It’s like a slightly more civilized version of animals gathered around the last remaining water hole in the savannah during the dry season. Sure they stay in their own herds and are cautious but they’ve all got the same goal – survival – and sometimes that involves interaction and acknowledging or at least tolerating others. They’d rather not interact. They’d rather just get their drink and move on but that’s not really possible, they’ve got to work together so when the zebras let the impalas in for a sip, that’s like nature’s version of the fake smile. Sometimes you can even see lions drinking right alongside a herd of wildebeest, that’s like nature’s version of small talk; "Hey how are ya? This dry season is a real bitch eh? Did you see that the Hippos brought bagels?"

That’s why it’s so unnerving when someone doesn’t reciprocate the smile. It completely throws off the social balance. There’s one gal who just simply refuses to do the smile. She won’t even hold the bathroom door open for you if you’re walking in right after her and that’s just a slap in the face right there. I’ve tried being extra nice to her, I’ve tried being extra bitchy to her, nothing phases her. At this point if we were in the savannah I’d offer her a spot to drink only after I saw that croc closing in and then I’d watch with satisfaction when it took off her head.

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