Ever been told to smile? Not in France

Written by Diane on. Posted in on everything else, on life in France

ever been told to smile

For all the ladies out there, have you ever been walking down the street minding your own business, deep in thought, and out of the blue a random guy yells out something to the effect of, “Smile! It’s not that bad!” Thanks dude (because it’s always a guy). Walking around with a random smile pasted on your face isn’t weird or anything. Think about it… who walks down the street smiling just because? In some cultures, smiling at strangers might give off the wrong message.

Has this happened to you? It’s happened to me many times when I was living in New York City, but has it happened to me in France?

GO!

Ever been told to smile?

ever been told to smile

It’s a simple fact that some people smile more than others. We all have different personalities and ways of expressing ourselves. Smiling is great but it’s not always a reflection of how someone’s feeling on the inside. It’s easy to plaster on a fake smile for the sake of appearing happy or pleasant and some people are just natural smilers. I have some friends that are super outgoing and smiley and others that are more reserved and aren’t so over the top with their smiles. One isn’t better than the other.

This being told to smile thing is beyond annoying and in the Broad City clip below, Abbi and Ilana have the perfect response. Just fast-forward a little to see what I mean:

I know people who tend to always put on a fake smile regardless of how they’re feeling on the inside and others who have more of a neutral expression that can come off as sad or mad or just normal. I’m the latter. I don’t often show off a fake smile for strangers when I’m walking down the street — didn’t do it in NYC and definitely don’t do it in France.

Except in NYC, I’d probably get the “SMILE!” comment a couple of times a month from construction workers or other guys who think it’s their duty to yell out things at women they don’t know — but in France? I haven’t heard it once.

Why? It’s not because I’ve changed my ways and smile for no reason when walking down the street, definitely not. It’s because:

In France, one’s private sphere is exactly that — private.

If you’re not smiling, it’s not a problem. Maybe you aren’t happy. Maybe you are just in the middle of thinking. Maybe your mind is blank and you’re walking alone. It’s not that the French don’t care (well some probably don’t), but there’s a clear divide between public and private especially when it comes to social interactions. If you’re pregnant, a random stranger won’t approach you on the street to touch your stomach. If you’re crying in public, no one is going to ask you if you’re OK. And if you aren’t smiling and are just walking with a blank expression on your face, no lame guy is going to yell out, “SMILE!” as he passes by.

There’s no fake niceness, or at least not to the point that you’d see it in the US with a big smile upon meeting someone accompanied by feigned enthusiasm. French culture doesn’t require a smile. The French are all depressed. Just kidding, they’re not.

If you met me in person, you’d see that I smile and laugh and have fun just like anyone else. But if I’m deep in thought walking down the street alone just minding my own business? I’m probably not smiling and my face would convey a neutral expression. Here, it’s not a problem at all for me — and certainly shouldn’t be a problem for anyone else!

Ever been told to smile by a random stranger on the street?

 

Photo credit: shewatchedthesky / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND
 
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Comments (13)

  • Marianne

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    Ha you’re so right. People in France do not give a damn if you have an angry face, they just leave you alone. I have, however been asked by a random French guy in Marseille if I was lost… to which he then said, without giving me any time to respond, “because if you’re looking for me, I’m right here”
    So creepiness is everywhere.
    Marianne recently posted…A Taste of French MusicMy Profile

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Hahha, gotta love his pickup line. A for effort. NOT. But yes, creeps are everywhere. People just know boundaries in social situations here I find and don’t invite themselves into strangers’ private lives. I get it to a point but sometimes it can feel cold and impersonal. That said, I like that no one cares if I have a fake smile, a real one or just a blank expression when walking Dagny!

      Reply

  • Mary

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    I can’t stand the American feigned enthusiasm! That high-pitched “hiiiii ! …how are you?!!” from both women. Then, “Good! How are youuu?!” Yuck! So fake. Yes, I’ve had strangers tell me to smile in the U.S. When I was in France, I couldn’t help but walk around with a smile on my face, enjoying everything about it! I didn’t have anyone there tell me to smile, but I did notice how men hit on me there… I was in Paris for a whole summer and every day between 10-20 guys would start walking with me on the sidewalk and talking to me. I just ignored them, as I heard I was supposed to do. One time I made the mistake of saying “bonjour” back to one of them and he stayed with me all day! I couldn’t get rid of him!

    Reply

    • Mary

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      Now I’m in Chicago, and it’s nearly impossible to meet a man unless you’re at a bar or dating site. It’s hard to make eye contact or conversation with strangers. They all feign interest in street lights or signs, or the sidewalk, or their phones… anything but people.

      Reply

    • Diane

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      Yes, it can really be too much sometimes. I guess with some people, the enthusiasm is genuine and part of their personality but sometimes it’s a total put on. And ugh, what creeps. They followed you?? So scary!

      Reply

      • Mary

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        Most of the guys walked beside me and said “bonjour” and asked me questions, but I just ignored them because I wasn’t there to meet someone and complicate my life. The one guy that I accidentally said hello back to stayed with me all day until dark! He didn’t have to work and I was just walking around the city and didn’t want to return to my hotel because I didn’t want him to know where I was staying. He was nice and I did have a nice day with him, but I finally started crying and said I was going to call the police, and he laughed and hugged me (he was Moroccan) and asked for my phone number and then called it to verify that I didn’t give him a fake one, and then he left and I went to an Internet cafe first to be sure he wouldn’t follow me to my hotel.

        Reply

  • Annie Andre

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    I was just talking about this with my husband and I have mixed feelings about smiling vs not smiling. I will say this, when I do smile at random people on the street and say bonjour, they immediately smile and say bonjour in return. One elderly lady, after I said bonjour to her, stopped me and said thank you for smiling and saying hello to her. She said people today dont do these things anymore and that she appreciated it.

    One place where I wish the French WOULD SMILE (fake or not) is at our freaking bank. i walk in and the ladies behind the counter dont even crack a smile no matter how friendly i try to be. It makes me feel uncomfortable how stern they are.
    Annie Andre recently posted…Living In France Travel Meme: What People Think I do vs What I Really DoMy Profile

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    • Diane

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      Hi Annie, you bring up good points, thank you. My thoughts: In the instance of the bank I totally agree. The bank is in a position of providing a service to you, the client, so they should be friendly and polite and a smile goes a long way. The elderly lady is of the same sex and isn’t a threat or looking for romance, so in a friendly, non-aggressive way, a smile is no big deal and is appreciated. What is annoying to me is when creepy dudes who think it’s OK to harass a woman (like Mary mentioned above) try to tell us how we should look just to appeal to them and how they think women should look at any given moment. I came to expect loser guys to shout out something as I passed by and that’s what really irks me. I’m all for smiling at the elderly on the street though. 😉

      Reply

  • Louise@FitRadiance

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    I’ve been told this more times than I can remember over the years! So annoying. Typical British men 😉 I like the sound of France haha.
    Louise@FitRadiance recently posted…Insta-LatelyMy Profile

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Glad I’m not alone. SOOO annoying, isn’t it? Like mind your own business, weird guy! haha

      Reply

  • Melissa Bauernfeind

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    I’ve been told to smile my whole life. I’ve always found it so annoying. I grew up in NYC, where you’d think I’d be safe from this commentary but no. Then when I moved to San Diego it followed me. The worst was when I was in my car stopped at a red light when a guy selling newspapers actually came to my window and told me to smile. I was so annoyed because 1. I thought I was smiling and 2. I was in the privacy of my own car and I couldn’t even do what I wanted! Now that I am back in NY, and older, I actually do find myself making an effort to smile more only because I don’t want to be that miserable looking person walking down the street, but regardless, whether I smile or not, it’s up to me. Don’t TELL me to smile. It instantly makes me frown.

    Reply

    • Mary

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      It made me giggle when you said you thought you were smiling. 🙂 I’ve had a Greenpeace guy say as I’m hurrying past him to get to my train, “Excuse me, I think you dropped you…. smile.” That instantly put me in a bad mood.

      Reply

    • Mary

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      It made me giggle when you said you thought you were smiling. 🙂 I’ve had a Greenpeace guy say as I’m hurrying past him to get to my train, “Excuse me, I think you dropped your…. smile.” That instantly put me in a bad mood.

      Reply

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