Smile Even Though Your Heart Is Breaking…

by admin on October 31, 2012

I probably deserve to be in E-Hell for my reaction but nonetheless I am submitting this story. A few weeks ago my grandfather had two strokes, a heart attack and slipped into a coma. After being told by several specialist that my grandfather would spend the rest of his life connected to tubes my grandmother decided the best course of action would be to remove him from the ventilator. Since she wanted family members to be able to say their good byes she decided to wait for a few days. The day came and I drove to the hospital thinking I would be fine but as soon as I parked my car I began crying. I composed myself for the long walk to the ICU and just before getting to the elevators I encountered a man who said, “You need to fix your face and show me that gorgeous smile.” I responded with, “F*** off!”, and continued walking past him. I was very tired, upset and generally not in the mood to show off my “gorgeous smile” because my grandfather would no longer be around. I was very close to him and even though he has been gone almost a month still find myself wanting to ask him something. (Just this morning my mom asked me how much I though a new garage door would cost and I almost responded “Ask grandpa.”)

My face relaxes into a non-smile even when I am happy. I realize my reaction was not appropriate but why do men feel it is appropriate to ask random women to smile at them. Is it that I should be happy because they have shown an interest in me? Should I base my mood on how much male attention I receive? And yes, maybe they are trying to “be nice” but should realize that my non-smile may have good reason behind it. There is nothing wrong with acknowledging someone but too often I am acknowledged by referencing my physical appearance. I am too often told to smile by strangers. Strangers who get upset when I don’t oblige their request. All I am saying is that before you decide that the woman in front of you needs to smile think that maybe she is not in the mood to smile and your invasive request may sour her mood further. 0917-12

 

I think people use the “Smile!” command when they see something amiss yet have no social graces to really offer anything that addresses the root cause.   Upon seeing someone in distress, and presuming one felt compelled to offer help, the proper questions to ask would be, “Is there anything I can do to help?  Would you like a tissue or drink of water or coffee?  Would you like prayer?”  (You would be surprised how many people willingly respond to the offer of prayer.)   Be willing to be a sounding board, offer a hankerchief or tissues, say only, “I am so sorry” if appropriate and know when to back off.

I’m not enamored with the use of the F bomb in response to stupidity, especially good intentioned stupidity gone wrong.   Ignoring him is about as much attention as the man deserved and responding with vulgar words is reciprocal rudeness.

FYI to all commentators, I am not approving any comments which endorse, condone or high five the OP for the use of the F Bomb…I think many people need to get over their entitled right to use extreme curses in response to irritations and offenses. It’s as if those of you approving of this retaliatory rudeness cannot conceive of any better way to handle a situation and that defeats the entire purpose of this blog.

{ 111 comments… read them below or add one }

Pen October 31, 2012 at 4:35 am

I’m not so sure about the “good intentions” part of the explanation to this one. I’ve had similar (although less tragic) things happen to me, and it is consistently men who say “smile!” and so on. I’ve come to realise that it is not good intentions at all–if it were, surely a question of “are you alright?” or “is everything okay?” would be easier. And the few times I have smiled, the men walk off, satisfied, knowing full well that that could not have actually cheered me up. No, I find this to be merely an order of “live up to your function as a decoration for me”. It is not done out of concern for the upset woman, but rather, to improve the view of the man making the demand.

I am sure some people demand others do things for them out of genuine misplaced kindness, but I feel that this is often not the case here. The strong gender bias alone suggests otherwise.

Although it would have been better if the OP had responded differently, she certainly is not to blame given her emotional state! What kind of fool walks around a hospital of all places demanding that people not look sad? There is no question that this man was not acting for the benefit of the OP.

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Rowan October 31, 2012 at 4:55 am

I’ll bet you that guy wouldn’t have told an upset looking MAN to smile. This sort of thing makes my blood boil – so many blokes out there seem to think that women should be pretty and decorative all the time, and it’s somehow being offensive if they’re not. And frankly, if you see someone in tears AT A HOSPITAL it’s pretty likely that something horrific is happening in their life.

OK, swearing at random people isn’t good manners, but I think that guy was far more ill-mannered than you. And probably with far less excuse.

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Lex October 31, 2012 at 5:36 am

Personally I’d have probably been just as angry at the presumption of this person and responded with something sarcastic or burst into tears. Hospitals are no place to assume someone must be happy – too much illness, bad diagnosis and death happens in hospitals to ever assume that a sad face is anything but bereavement. I don’t think it’s appropriate for strangers to ever comment on a persons appearance (unless of course it’s to gently give a heads up to a problem). It is especially not appropriate to demand that a person fix their appearance so as to look nice for others! I usually keep my own counsel and politely ignore the appearance of others, especially in a hospital.

This story reminds me of a situation that happened to my mother. Having been diagnosed with stage 1 uterine cancer cells, she was booked in for an immediate and total hysterectomy. Understandably she was very distressed about this. In the UK, different hospitals handle these surgeries differently and in our local area the Gynecology departments are based at a Maternity hospital – the hospital is basically ‘All things Female’ – Obstetrics and Gynecology and she was booked into a gynae ward. So she has the surgery and returns to the ward. Complications ensue and long-story-short she ends up VERY swollen. On the way to the lavatory she passed a cleaner mopping the floor who promptly asked her cheerfully when she was due and said that she must be ‘about ready to pop’… My mum was not amused.

OP, you were right to be upset by this person, but I think telling him to F-off was not really necessary. I’d have summoned my iciest glare and informed him in no uncertain terms how inappropriate his demand was. Either that or responded with an incredulous ‘Excuse me?’ and taken the stairs to another level.

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Emmy October 31, 2012 at 5:39 am

I don’t condone the OP’s reaction, but I know how frustrating this can be even when not in a situation when faced with losing a loved one. I wouldn’t call the man’s comment ‘good intentioned’. When people command a person to ‘smile’, like they would a dog to sit, they are doing it for their own benefit. It bothered him to see the OP’s unhappy face and he wanted to see a smile, the fact there may have been a real reason for her expression probably didn’t cross his mind. It was especially insensitive to do this in a hospital where there it is likely that many visitors would be very concerned or unhappy. If he was truly concerned, he would have asked how he could help instead of commanding her to smile.

I find comments on my facial expression annoying and do notice that it always seems to come from a man. It shows a lack of respect to me. I had this done in business situation, usually by a man older than me. I cannot imagine that the same man would be telling another man or a higher ranking woman to smile. A few years ago we sold our house. Our main real estate agent was great, but her boss proceeded to tell me I had a ‘deer in headlights’ look on both occasions we had seen him. Once was in a room full of people. When people do this, it feels like they don’t think I am smart and they don’t respect me.

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shadowfox79 October 31, 2012 at 5:40 am

I’m willing to give a pass for the profanity. What kind of idiot sees someone looking sad in a hospital – where the chances are high that they’re either ill themselves or visiting someone who’s ill – and tells them to smile?

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Ruby October 31, 2012 at 6:07 am

First off, OP, I am so sorry for your loss. I hope you and your family are doing well in such a difficult time for all of you.

As for the man described, I loathe people who make these orders. If you want to see a person smile, perhaps you should do something that would make them smile. Simply ordering to do so is rude. Doing so in a place associated with sadness (hospitals, cemetaries, memorials) is so incredibly stupid and thoughtless.

The truth is that they don’t care if the person they’re ordering about is happy or not, because they demand a smile, and leave it at that. They make no attempt to offer any sort of reason to smile. They’re so extra special, that’s all the reason needed! These people are control freaks who view the person of whom they are making their inane requests as nothing more than decoration, and it would so spoil their day to see a pretty girl not being as pretty as she could possibly be!

These situations are difficult, and reacting appropriately and with decorum is probably going to be the last thing on anybody’s mind. OP, don’t beat yourself up about your reaction. You need to be as focused on yourself and your loved ones, and leave this rude man entirely behind in your thoughts.

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Lorie October 31, 2012 at 6:28 am

OP-Sending a cyber hug your way. So sorry for your loss.

I’m glad to see that others feel the same way I do about the whole total stranger telling you to cheer up and smile being an ego thing. “Hey mister or miss, you don’t know my story so leave me alone.”

In December 2009, my father passed away 3 days before Christmas. My mother was suffering the last stages of Alzheimers and didn’t recognize him as her husband. It was up to me, their only child, to go shopping for clothes to bury him in. He had lost so much weight that none of his suits would fit. So here I am, running around the local mall about 7 hours after my daddy entered Paradise, looking for what seemed to be the impossible (a man’s suit) 3 shopping days before Christmas. I was not in the best of moods to say the least. As I was walking, some seasonal kiosk salesperson step right in my path, telling me to cheer up and where’s my holiday spirit…oh and buy some of this fabulous hand cream. I truly believe that if my husband had not been standing next to me telling ther guy to go away, he would have ingested the product nasaly and orally. When he kept insisting, I looked him right in the eye and said, “My father died this morning. I looking for clothes to bury him in the day after Christmas. Please step away.” As we walked away, I could hear him call me the equivalant of a female dog under his breath. I just kept going…he wasn’t worth my energy.

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Kimstu October 31, 2012 at 6:58 am

Of course nobody round these parts of the interwebs condones the use of rude language even in response to rudeness, but I agree with all the previous posters that the OP’s lapse in this case was very understandable.

Sadly, a lot of guys are so clueless that they really believe that a rude and intrusive remark like “you need to show me that gorgeous smile” will actually make a woman happy because of the compliment to her appearance. As though any real-life woman is shallow enough to think “Well, here I am on the way to the ICU to bid farewell forever to my poor beloved grandpa, but hey, some random guy thinks my smile is gorgeous so I guess things aren’t so bad!”

What should the OP have done instead? I think the most proper response would have been simply ignoring the jerk. A remark that impertinent and insensitive doesn’t even deserve a reply. (Although I admit I would have been sorely tempted to say something like “I can’t smile while my dear grandfather is dying. When I hear that YOU’RE dying, THEN I promise you I’ll smile.”)

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Shannon October 31, 2012 at 7:18 am

OP, I am so sorry for your loss.

I agree with the previous posters that if the OP were a man, she would not have been commanded to smile. Unfortunately, there are many men out there who simply cannot fathom that women have emotions, too, and are not required to be decorative at all times. Commanding, or even asking, for a stranger to smile is rude and presumptuous.

I’m smiley by nature, but have been told to smile by strange men on occasion. (Which dropped off considerably once I was older than 30/married/etc…hmmmmmm. I guess I stopped being so decorative once I left my 20s?) A simple, astonished, “How rude! For all you know, I just lost my job,” works wonders.

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Leah October 31, 2012 at 7:34 am

I hate it when people demand a smile! I never know how to respond. It’s always awkward and uncomfortable.

I also hate it when people comment on how tired I look. Even if they’re trying to symphathize – it feels to me like they’re basically just telling me I look awful. Which is an observation I could do without.

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egl October 31, 2012 at 7:50 am

While the F-bomb may not have been the appropriate response, I wouldn’t expect the OP to really have etiquette or “best way to react to this jerk”, foremost in her mind at the time.

I also don’t see good intentions on his part. Trying to police other people’s moods is rude, and about ten times as rude when you do it somewhere where you’d expect to run into people who are upset. He was rude and got a rude response in return, hopefully he at least learned something from her reaction.

OP, I’m very sorry for your loss.

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Jenny October 31, 2012 at 7:54 am

This happened to my mom. Five minutes after her mom died, some guy in an elevator (my mom was going down to a payphone to call her sister) told my mom “Smile! God loves you.” My mom was in her 20s, tended to look very younger, and was very pretty, but the idea of telling a woman to smile just after her mom died is nuts. I don’t know what my Dad would have said had he been in the elevator with her. My mom said something along the lines of “Please leave me alone. God may love me, but my mother just died.”

I don’t understand why anyone would do this in a HOSPITAL. Except for delivering babies, most people who are in the hospital do NOT want to be there. Even in the labor and delivery ward, you could have parents or families who are devastated by something that went wrong. Why on earth would you pick a HOSPITAL for a place to make a comment like that?

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Lo October 31, 2012 at 8:03 am

This is a horrible thing to have to go through, I’m sorry for your family’s loss.

I don’t believe it’s ever appropriate to tell a stranger to cheer up.

Once when I was at a mall I was heading towards a shop to meet up with some friends, hurrying along and completely unaware of the expression of my face (probably slightly pained as I was navigating crowds of people) when a man stepped out in front of me and enthusiastically demanded, “turn that frown upside down!” He wasn’t even selling anything, he was just some random shopper. I stared at him and then brushed past. The moment I met my friends I told them what had happened and one of the guys deadpanned, “you want me to kick his [butt]?”

At least, I think he was joking. But I tell you I have never been more sorely tempted to find out.

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Audra October 31, 2012 at 8:05 am

I agree with shadowfox79. If I am in a hosptial looking upset or crying, chances are that I have heard some bad news or have lost someone close and do not want to smile.

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LiLi October 31, 2012 at 8:13 am

The F-Bomb was a knee-jerk to a jerk. Unfortunately when emotions run high it can be difficult to control our responses. It’s not an excuse, and one would hope OP wasn’t looking to the blog to condone her response, but count me among those willing to sympathize and “give a pass” due to the extremity of the situation.

I can also be counted among those who find that man to be extremely rude. OP was entering a hospital for love of Pete! He has no idea why she’s there yet he has the presumption to diminish whatever emotion she was feeling. “Fix your face” is probably the worst part, that’s not even an attempt to be kind! My condolences OP.

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Jenn50 October 31, 2012 at 8:13 am

Count me among the people who have encountered this solely as a man-to-woman thing, and an attempt to make the woman conform to his expectations that women are to keep themselves attractive for his benefit. Blech.

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ferretrick October 31, 2012 at 8:19 am

My original comment seems to have disappeared into the ether, but just so y’all know, NO, it is not just women who hear this. I am posessed of a beard/moustache that covers the ends of my mouth, so unless I am REALLY smiling, my expression is neutral. And I have people walk up to me and pull the “SMILE!” stuff too, although I seem to get it far more from women than from other men. Maybe it’s a cross genders thing.

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Tom October 31, 2012 at 8:29 am

There is another reason this might happen: many men, particularly those in modern American culture, have this sense of entitlement to women looking cheerful, and believe that women should be cheerful all the time. It tends to be a very gendered sort of microagression (men who have had other men tell them forcefully to “smile!” please speak up).

Not sure if the OP is female, though if they were, this probably explains the incident a little better.

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Raven October 31, 2012 at 8:33 am

I know that a lot here (including me) don’t have a lot of love for the F-word, but there are cases where it can be forgiven. I think this is one of those cases.

OP, I’m sorry for your loss. It should have been obvious to this man that, especially given the fact you were in a hospital, that you were likely grieving – the last thing a person needs to worry about when grieving is their appearance.

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Nay October 31, 2012 at 8:41 am

The OP had a very common encounter — an older (usually) male demanding that an attractive younger female stranger smile for him. As noted by other posters, this disgusting little tactic is never directed at men or older women — it is directed only by men at women to whom they are sexually attracted. It is a way to exert power over a female stranger and is never ‘friendly.’ It is nearly always insulting. The fact that this lout practiced his tactic in a HOSPITAL only underscores his boorishness, but men like this don’t care if they are boorish — it’s all about demanding that women jump to obey, and the satisfaction they receive when their demand is met. Many feminist websites discuss this issue and offer possible responses to such rudeness; my favorite is “I’m not your trained monkey. Leave me alone.”

OP, I certainly don’t condemn your response, and I am so sorry you lost your beloved grandpa.

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livvy17 October 31, 2012 at 8:51 am

This is where I would employ the “whithering glare.” The one that implies the curse word without saying it. OP I’m sorry for your loss.

It does remind me of the post Admin put up some time ago – reminding us all to try to be forgiving of rudeness – as we can’t know what forces are in play that might make normally polite people temporarilty rude.

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Jinx October 31, 2012 at 8:55 am

Dearest OP, I am so sorry for you loss.

If it were me, I don’t know how I would have addressed what I assume to be an absolutely insane man in the elevator.

While I wouldn’t assume in other locations that people are upset (though, it would be easy to tell if someone HAD been crying) I think the fact that this happened in a hospital really marks this man in the elevator as some kind of crazy social boor. Again, that being said, even if someone were at Disneyland, if they had tears streaming down their face, I don’t feel like it’s a good idea to assume they should smile to make you feel better. The statement “smile” is something meant to be said to pout-y children (and still may not be appropriate)… to address any adult, especially a total stranger, in that manner demonstrates a complete disregard for anything occurring past the boor’s nose. “If I’m happy, everyone should be happy” is not a correct view to take on the world.

I feel very sorry that the OP could not have been met with more empathy, or at least silence.

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AMC October 31, 2012 at 8:56 am

I’ve heard of this “Smile Baby” phenomenon before. It’s sometimes used as a more subtle form of street harassment. It’s really just another way for a guy to intrude on the time and space of a woman he doesn’t know while still seeming well-intentioned. The jerk in the elevator should have thought twice before telling a stranger, who was obviously upset and at the hospital, that she should “fix her face” and smile for him. If that’s his way of trying to help and offer comfort, I can’t think of a worse approach.
I’m sure the OP wishes that she’d thought of a better comeback in the moment. Alas, it never seems to work out that way. I think a good response would have been to simply say, “I don’t know you, and I don’t owe you anything.”

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nk October 31, 2012 at 9:06 am

This man’s behavior would be rude anywhere, but it’s completely ridiculous in a hospital. You go there when your loved ones are sick, injured, possibly dying–why on earth would someone expect everyone visiting a hospital to smile?

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Emily October 31, 2012 at 9:08 am

What frustrates me most of all? She was told to smile in front of the *ICU*!! If someone isn’t smiling in front of such a location, they probably have a very good reason not to and I can’t believe that someone had the nerve to say that to her.

No matter if he was flirting or trying to console her, it was an inappropriate time and place to say such a thing as “Fix your face”.

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scottish_lass October 31, 2012 at 9:15 am

OP, like others have said, I am so sorry for your loss.
I don’t think that man was acting in your best interests, it sounds very much like a command for his own benefit to me. And, of course sitting in my comfortable couch it would be easy to say “You should have responded in X or Y way.” But you were shocked, you were sad and you were IN A HOSPITAL. None of that means that dropping the F-bomb is the right thing to do, but I personally think the circumstances excuse you. I would probably have burst into tears as opposed to respond with anger, but I am quite sure that I would not have responded to that as a perfect lady either.
I hope time will help to heal your grief and that you can put this particular incident out of your head. Take care.

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Library Diva October 31, 2012 at 9:18 am

I agree with the previous posters that I don’t see good intentions on the part of this guy at all. I also agree that his remarks were motivated by sexism and obnoxiousness rather than by any sincere desire to help a fellow human in trouble. He’s probably the same sort who whistles at women out of his car window, tells them they look sexy, etc.

His comment would have been bad enough in any setting, but in a hospital, it rises to the level of massive insensitivity. Unless you’re there to give birth to or visit a brand-new baby, you’re not likely to be there for any kind of positive reason. Anyone you see at a hospital is probably having a terrible day, maybe even one of the worst of their lives. It’s not the time for nonsense, just leave them alone, especially if they have an obvious destination as in OP’s case. What if she missed out on saying her goodbyes because she was busy dodging some jerk who felt entitled to a smile from a random stranger?

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Emmy October 31, 2012 at 9:23 am

I get very sick and tired of comments about my smile. I’m either told to smile, look happy, ect. Or if I am smiling, I’m asked why I’m smiling or what I’m so happy about. I can’t win either way. This story especially upsets me because you were in a hospital. Yes, many joyus things happen in hospitals, births, people are saved, illnesses are cured, it can be very happy. Unfortuently there are many tragic things happening in hospitals as well, including the death of a loved one. If I’d seen you crying (or looking upset) in hospital elevator, I might have offered comfort, a kind look, or just…silence. Not command to look happy.

I recently took my car for an oil change, and when they were finished they gave me the run down of everything wrong with my car. Now, I don’t trust just one doctor, so I don’t trust just one mechanic, especially since I’d never been here before and just went because I had a coupon, so I knew I’d be taking the list and having a second mechanic look it over. However hearing the rundown list of everything that needed repairing and knowing what it would cost, didn’t not make me feel happy. So what does the mechanic say to me? “Hey! Give me a smile now, it’s a nice day and pretty young ladies need to smile so us grouchy old men feel better!”, seriously? Without smiling I told him “I don’t give away smiles, they cost 5 bucks each, 10 for you since apparently you want to screw me over and then have me smile about it afterwards. And it is not ‘pretty young laides’ jobs to make grouchy old men feel better. I suggesst getting some prozac. And just to let you know, that incredibly sexist remark you made to me, just made this garage loose any and all future business from at least me, and probably any of my female friends, we don’t like being treated like morons. Now, may please have my car keys”, he called me a foul word for not jumping at the chance to brighten his day but I just shrugged and said “If that’s what you need to think of me. Car keys, now please”.

I can’t say for sure in OP’s position I wouldn’t have dropped an F bomb. I have a mouth that would make a drunken sailor on leave blush, but I probably would’ve felt bad afterwards. Though I must admit, only because I’d feel I didn’t properly defend myself and he was probably thinking I was just “foul word for woman who stands up for herself”. On the other hand when my grandma was dying, I had zero “this is family business” filter, and had someone told me what the OP was told, I might’ve just blutered out “My grandma is dying you jerk!” and then walked away.

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Cami October 31, 2012 at 9:34 am

There are no good intentions on this man’s part. He was treating the OP like she was a trained poodle, supposed to dance on his command FOR HIS PLEASURE. Unfortunately, too many men believe women exist to decorate their lives and make them happy at all times, including when an obviously distressed person is on the way INTO a HOSPITAL. Anyone with good intentions would either offer help or avert their eyes from another’s distress. I think when one treats a person like a dog, one shouldn’t be surprised if they get teeth bared at them in return.

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Elizabeth October 31, 2012 at 9:47 am

This is a sexist demand and I’m guessing that the OP is younger than the offender. Just because this rude person spoke to you doesn’t mean he deserves an answer. Look right through him – he doesn’t exist.

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Ashleigh October 31, 2012 at 9:50 am

Admin, the situation you describe, where someone notices that another person is upset and clumsily attempts to make it better by suggesting that they cheer up and smile, does happen, but it’s something that doesn’t happen often and generally happens only in specific circumstances (i.e. a co-worker you don’t know well trying to comfort you while you cry at work).

Commanding a stranger to smile is almost always a gendered act based not on a genuine desire to cheer someone up, but a feeling of entitlement–that women are there to be pretty and decorative for the viewer’s pleasure. While the OP did appear genuinely upset, I’ve had it happen to me multiple times while my face was simply neutral. This is a common cultural behavior that doesn’t require any overt sadness, just a presumption on the part of the man that a woman is not looking sufficiently cheerful for him. The OP shouldn’t have cursed at the man, but he was not a bumbling do-gooder who lacked the social skills to cheer her up out of sheer altruism–he was a Gimme Pig. Just like the people in other stories feel that they are entitled to gifts and money and favors because they are SO SPECIAL, he felt entitled to command the OP to put on a pleasing facial expression for him because, consciously or unconsciously, he believed that he too was SPECIAL and that the OP’s privacy and emotional state took a backseat to his desire to see a pretty lady smiling at him.

I strongly feel that you should edit your original commentary to reflect what people are saying here. Don’t feed the Gimme-A-Smile-Pigs by excusing their behavior.

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Lacey October 31, 2012 at 9:58 am

Completely disagree with the “good intentions.” Does a man ever tell another man to smile? Ladies, ever heard “smile” from another woman? Nope, me neither. The “smile” command is my least favourite comment from strange men ever, and I’ve heard a lot of disgusting things. “Smile” from a man, means 1) “Hey, pay attention to me!” and 2) “It’s your job to look as pleasing as possible to me, so do it!” Hate it SO much. It’s especially condescending when one actually is in a bad mood for some reason, and not just making the standard “I don’t want you to approach me, strange man” face.

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admin October 31, 2012 at 1:36 pm

No, men tell each other to “chin up”, “buck up”. Same thing, different words.

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Spuck October 31, 2012 at 10:02 am

I really can’t condemn the OP for the knee jerk reaction with the F-bomb. The fact is the OP was dealing with a death, and a lingering one at that. I have props for people who can stay on top with their social graces all the time, but sometimes its not possible and things slip.

As for a stranger commenting on a person’s appearance, it is rude and in this case I would not say it has to deal with not knowing what to say. I can understand one adult telling another adult to cheer, buck up, or smile in certain situations. On the other and the OP was in a hospital, and a stranger also commented on her looks. I wouldn’t expect a person in a hospital to look their best, and this man should not have either.

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Jen G October 31, 2012 at 10:04 am

I am so sorry for your loss OP. I too think the profanity, while not ideal, is forgivable in this case. However, I think for buffoons like the one you encountered, it’s entirely counter-productive. Responding with profanity leave the recipient thinking that THEY are the ones who have been insulted, and they don’t even question that they might’ve actually deserved it for being the one who was initially so rude.

I think that in the face of rudeness like that, we all need to bring back the good ol’ “How DARE you??” Because, really!

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Julia October 31, 2012 at 10:04 am

This is definitely a gendered thing – and given the amount of street harassment women already deal with, I am disappointed to hear that any comments condoning the OP’s reaction wouldn’t be permitted. I have DEFINITELY lost it when men catcall me (and yes, telling women to smile is pervasive enough that I put it under catcalling). Men of the world need to realize that just because a woman is in a public space, she is not public property and is not necessarily interested in hearing whatever they want to say to her.

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admin October 31, 2012 at 1:34 pm

I’m surprised commenters are making this a gender issue. On the rare times someone has commanded a smile from me, it’s always been persons, both male and female, that are least one generation older than me. It’s more generational patronizing than gender, imo. The last person to command a smile from me was an older woman. She got a flood of tears instead.

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Cyprienne October 31, 2012 at 10:06 am

“You need to fix your face”??!? That man deserves a stink-eye, pronto.

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Wendy October 31, 2012 at 10:09 am

Many years ago when my grandmother began to suffer from dementia, she would take her frustration and anger out on my mom, her youngest child who was also her caretaker. One day, in the hospital, she ripped into mom and mom walked out of the room and went into the stairwell to cry. One of the local pastors came up the stairs and paused and asked mom what was wrong. Mom gave him a brief summary and his response was, “oh, that’s too bad,” and walked on. No, “I’ll pray for you,” or anything. My mom’s reaction was shock and sometimes I wish she’d told him where he could stick it. From what I’ve heard, she’s not the only one to have that kind of an encounter.

While OP’s reaction was not, perhaps, the best it is, at least, understandable. Hospitals can be terrible places filled with extreme emotions at times. This guy was obviously a self-centered nitwit. In response, OP, make it a point to reach out to people in obvious distress at hospitals, etc. You can’t fix him, but you can “cancel” him, and others like him, out.

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Cammie October 31, 2012 at 10:11 am

First I’d like to offer my condolences on the loss of your Grandfather.

This post brings back the memory of the last time I responded to someone barking “Smile!” at me. Nothing tragic or serious, just an absorbed moment when I was concentrating on a difficult piece of work and a co-worker came up to me and sort of yelled “Smile!” at me. You know the tone, half joking, half serious, so if you took offence it would be your fault for being touchy.

I don’t know why, but I just looked up at him, same expression and yelled back, “Dance!” The look on his face was priceless. A little confused, a little unsure, totally thrown off his game. He said, “What?” and I replied, “Oh, sorry I thought we were shouting orders at each other.” He replied, “Jeez, I just asked you to smile.” I said, “Jeez, I just asked you to dance…, You dance, I’ll smile.” So he did. And I did.

And then he asked “I guess that was rude of me wasn’t it?” I said “Yup.”

He told me a couple months later that everytime he saw a girl not smiling, he’d think about it, and do a little step, but never bothered them again. That made me smile!

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Steffi October 31, 2012 at 10:11 am

OP, I am so sorry for your loss. Your grandpa sounds like he was awesome.

I used to work a very fast paced job involving truck drivers. I didn’t always have time to stop and chat, and the nature of my work meant I had to get them their tickets and get them out. The men would tell me several times a day to smile, and I started to feel like I was supposed to obey like some sort of well trained dog or chimp. My male co-worker, who is easily one of the grumpiest people I have ever met in my life, was never commanded to smile. Women are supposed to be pleasant and happy at all times and are supposed to look as such, or risk being labeled with some sort of nasty term. This story should illustrate that you have no idea what is going on in a person’s life, and asking them to smile can be the most hurtful thing imaginable you can say.

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Bint October 31, 2012 at 10:17 am

Demanding a woman smile – and it is *always* a woman – is power play. That’s all it is, a king ordering his jester around. It’s demeaning, it’s offensive and in a hospital it’s crass beyond belief, but it is just a power game whether the person demanding the smile knows it or not.

I hate people doing this. It really offends me. Someone told me to ‘smile!’ once when I’d just found out a friend had died and was crying at a bus stop, and I admit I screamed, “MY FRIEND’S JUST DIED!” at him. Normally I ask why they never ask a man to smile then walk off, still without smiling.

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Amber October 31, 2012 at 10:32 am

We all have etiquette missteps, and this one is perfectly understandable. I’m sorry for your loss, OP. It can be difficult to maintain a calm visage when one is mourning and someone else doesn’t quite get that cheerfulness far from the MO.

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Lucky October 31, 2012 at 10:35 am

Anybody who tells me to fix my face and smile gets my patented Glare of Death.

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LovleAnjel October 31, 2012 at 10:43 am

I’m going to add to the chorus – these commands to smile are meant to control women. Always from men, always out of the blue and at inopportune times.

A few years ago a man actually stepped in front of me and blocked my way before commanding me to smile. I had to stop walking and stare at his face until he stepped aside. This happens enough that I have a standard reaction of giving the person a long stare. If they were made uncomfortable when my non-smile was pointed at the ground, they get it in spades now.

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Annie October 31, 2012 at 10:43 am

My former boss assigned me to do an 18 month task that I didn’t know how to do, and refused to get me any training or support for it. It was the worst 18 months of my life, and I came close to a nervous breakdown. During this time, my boss frequently told me to smile. Apparently he thought this was the best way to help me. At the end of the 18 months, my whole department got laid off. I was smiling then.

I had another coworker who was constantly trying, unsuccessfully, to meet a woman who would be willing to date him. He told me once, “Women would be so much more attractive if they smiled and looked cheerful!” Apparently he hadn’t picked up on the fact that women weren’t interested in being attractive to him.

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Ellen October 31, 2012 at 10:48 am

OP, I’m sorry for your loss.

I disagree with pp’s (and, sadly, the admin) who think men commanding women to smile is a misplaced or well-intentioned effort to deal with others’ emotions.

I believe it is more directly related to construction workers whistling at passing women – a self-centered expectation that women’s job in existing is to “perform” for men’s eyes. It is extremely distasteful, and dehumanizing, as well as rude. It is inappropriate in any context, not just in a hospital.

I hope I would have the composure to avoid curses, but I think going beyond the steely glare to the direct challenge is warranted: “Excuse me, do I know you?”

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--Lia October 31, 2012 at 10:51 am

The OP was wrong. The man was wronger. Perhaps if this had been a situation where the OP could think on her toes, she might have said “oh, I’m so sorry. I know you have the right to see beautiful women around you all the time and never have to consider that people in a hospital might not be happy enough to smile. I wouldn’t want you to have to concern yourself with other people in private distressing moments. It’s enough that you think about yourself all the time and think of other people only in terms of how they affect you. With that in mind, it’s great that you can walk around giving inappropriate advice. I hope I haven’t ruined your day with my tears. After all, your day and your happiness are all that matter.”

The problem with f*** off in this situation isn’t that it’s mean or bad language. The problem is that the insensitive jerk had no chance to be educated in what an insensitive jerk he was.

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Lerah99 October 31, 2012 at 10:54 am

To think one of the young women in my Women’s Studies class this summer told the professor “Misogyny is soooooo 1960′s. Women are equal. Feminists should get over themselves.”

And yet, men don’t go around asking other men to “show that gorgeous smile”. Men don’t think it is ok to tell other men “You know, you could really be pretty if you bother with some make-up and did something with your hair every so often…”

OP, this guy in the elevator was a entitled jerk. He felt he was owed a smile from an attractive woman because of course attractive women were put on the planet to make him feel better. Feel free to give them an icy glare and say something cutting to their egos.

The problem with the F-bomb, is it has become so common place. It is no longer as shocking and cutting as it used to be. Saying something like “I’d rather lick a dog’s ear than give you a smile. This is why your mother should have taught you not to talk to strangers.” Be prepared to be called a nasty name. I usually respond to that by laughing. (Since I’m fat I normally get called a “fat b-word”. To which I laugh and reply “I can always loose weight. You’re forever going to be a pathetic and lonely old man.”).

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OP October 31, 2012 at 10:55 am

Hi its the OP!

First thank you all for your well wishes. My grandpa was truly a great man who would cast me into E-Hell himself for dropping the F-bomb. I know it was wrong. My family is doing well and we often find ourselves talking about grandpa and how much he did for us.

I understand that it is nice to seem someone smile but NO ONE has the right to demand a smile. I am a happy person but my face relaxes into a very serious look. Usually at least once a week I am told to smile by strangers (usually on my commute to work) and my response has been to ignore them. No more F-bombs!

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VZG October 31, 2012 at 10:57 am

Personally I think people’s reaction to curse words is more over-the-top than the words themselves (including here, yes), but beyond that…

This may have been well-intentioned, but it may equally well have not been. There ARE plenty of people who use demands of a smile as what they think of as coy flirting, where a negative response (or lack of one) is considered by them to be unacceptable — because they don’t think there’s any reason not to, because they’ve had success in the past, and because they honestly believe they are entitled to a positive response whenever they say something halfway kind (which they would imagine a comment like this to be). Men like that are often referred to as “Nice Guys” — guys who believe that they are owed something from women simply because they act kind to them. I’ve met some myself, and have been terrified by some of them, even; “Nice Guys” can extend even to guys who try to follow (“escort”) you home. I’m not a fan.

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Abby October 31, 2012 at 11:22 am

I’ll agree that the smile! command is inane at best and offensive at worst, and he’ll likely never use it again on a stranger. That being said, I think the response, even under the circumstance, was way harsh.

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