Miss Manners

Miss Manners: The smile police

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Dear Miss Manners:

What is the correct response when people tell me to smile? I am not at a photographer's studio or where photos are being taken. I'm just going about my business.

The other evening at a social function, I was waiting for my husband to bring the car to the door. An acquaintance was getting her coat at the coat check. We exchanged some pleasantries when out of the blue she told me to smile.

I told her it really annoys me when people say that to me. After a few moments of uncomfortable silence, we bid each other goodnight.

This request to smile has happened to me more than once. I am a reserved person and not one who goes around grinning from ear to ear. I'm not sad or mad. I'm just me.

How should I handle this request? Am I obligated to give them a big toothy smile? Was I rude to my acquaintance? Do I owe her an apology? I am perplexed by this command.

It is indeed both common and rude to command others to smile, as if this conferred a favor by improving their outlook on life.

Miss Manners was once told this by a stranger on an airplane, although she was dressed in black from head to toe, on her way to attend a funeral. Later she regretted that she had restrained herself from bursting into tears.

Still, your chastising the offender was rude. You could have conveyed the point politely by asking, "Why? Did you say something amusing?"

Dear Miss Manners:

How would you deal with a tour guide who is prejudiced against Americans? Our trip to Great Britain was great fun, except for an English tour guide who never ceased to berate our group for all the ills of the world (LOL, including Mrs. Wallis Simpson from years back).

The group as a whole just held their collective breaths whenever near her, kept a low profile and endeavored not to be rude. Afterward, there was a discussion as to how to defuse the situation without pushing the offending party off the bus. Any suggestions for next time?

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