Thursday, August 30, 2007

"What the fuck are you grinning at?"

Jennifer Dziura (via bobvis) writes about men harassing her in the streets. One of her peeves are the men who say "you're pretty -- why don't you smile more often?" She says "Among people and animals, a smile is often a sign of submission. Why don't you smile more often?"


Uhm, that would be me. I don't know why, but I smile a quite lot without any visible reason. Often the reason is only visible to myself: I think of something amusing and smile at the thought. Sometimes not even that: I just find myself smiling without being particularly amused.

(This nonwithstanding, I do understand Jennifer - I get very annoyed myself if somebody tells me to smile in one of the rare moments when I am not already smiling.)

I've heard that thing about a smile being a sign of submission before, many times. I don't recognize that in myself, but then I am not a shrink. What I am really curious about is: if smiling is essentially a submissive gesture, why have so many people interpreted my smiling as a challenge? And since it happened a lot more often as a child and teenager than as an adult, is it some kind of childhood thing or a Russia thing?

This happened a few time in the US and in Finland, but during my school years in Russia it happened a few times a week: somebody would come up to me out of the blue, snarling and ready to fight, and screaming "what the fuck are you grinning at?". The answer was always "none of your fucking business", and this resulted in actual physical fights a few times a month. I sort of wish I knew whether I was still smiling when giving or receiving a good kicking.

Sometimes that happened in a street, too, usually with less physical fighting but more insults.

BTW, I think this partly explains why the people in the streets in Russia are so surly. You probably learn not to smile too much when every time you smile without a reason somebody wants to pick a fight with you. Ugh, I must have been a really slow learner...

Does that kind of thing happen often among the children and teenagers here and in other countries, or is that just a Russian thing? And what is it that makes people attack others for smiling?

One more thing that I have been wondering about: a lot of people never smile without a visible reason. How come? Do they actively suppress the smile when they happen to think of something amusing? Do they never think of anything amusing? (Eek, a scary thought!) Do amusing thoughts just fail to trigger a smile in them as opposed to the external stimuli?

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