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Smile Even Though Your Heart Is Breaking…

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… add one }
  • Kirst October 31, 2012, 11:22 am

    I have never known a woman tell a complete stranger to “give us a smile, darling” or any other version of it, and I have never known a man say it to another man. This is something that some men do, and they only say it to women. There is a certain type of man who seems to believe that women’s sole purpose is to be decorative; to smile for him and to be something (not someONE) nice for him to look at. The website everydaysexism.com is filled with similar examples. Swearing at him was rude, and I doubt he’ll have learnt anything from it – he’ll just have gone away thinking the OP is a bitch. Having said that, in those circumstances I’d probably have said exactly the same. Next time any man says something like that to me, he’ll be getting a talking-to about why he thinks it’s appropriate to ask me to perform for him like a smiling seal, why he thinks women’s role is to be decorative for him, and about how hurtful it can be to say things like that to someone who might be experiencing extreme grief or other personal pain.

  • Michellep October 31, 2012, 11:32 am

    While I don’t condone the OP’s response, I can understand it. I’ve never been in that situation, thank goodness, but have been in the situation where I’ve had people tell me “smile”!

    I’ve noticed that fad seems to be fading, and good riddance. I got it a few times when I worked as a bank teller. I needed to concentrate at that job, and the “smile” order was distracting.

    OP, I’m sorry for your loss.

  • Calli Arcale October 31, 2012, 11:34 am

    I can give a pass for the profanity, on the basis that when something this horrible is happening in your life, you are very definitely not at your best. Perhaps we should all practice so that if this situation occurs to us, we have something more useful to use against a boor like this. (Because honestly, he may have been well-intentioned, but it could just as easily have been a come-on, and that’s in extremely poor taste under the circumstances as he knew them. And possibly any other circumstances as well. “Give me that smile”, eh? Okay, I’ll give it to you — and then show you where to stuff it!)

    I like the suggestion of an icy stare and “Excuse me?” “Leave me alone” would work too. I have found myself under broadly similar circumstances, and what I’ve used is along the lines of “I’ve had a very bad day, and I’m really not in the mood for smiles, so please leave me alone.” But I tend not to have the energy for anger in these circumstances. The world sort of deflates down to stark realities and nothing more.

  • Michelle October 31, 2012, 11:58 am

    OP, first of all, I’m so sorry for your loss. I know it’s hard, and there are moments when you feel okay and the very next moment you’re crying. It will get better eventually, but please accept my heartfelt condolences now.

    I find myself irritated as you are by the command to “smile”. On a somewhat lighter note, I used to have a co-worker who, whenever she would pass by my desk, would tell me to “smile”. I’d be sitting there, adding up a bunch of figures on a calculator, minding my own business, and out of the blue it’d be, “SMILE!” Jeez, that (and she) used to irritate me.

    But to attempt to tell someone to smile in a hospital – that takes true insensitivity. Perhaps if you’d said something more along the lines of “I’m sorry I cannot accomodate that request – I’m losing my grandpa today”, you might have even more effectively put him in his place enough to make him think twice next time. As it is, though, I’m afraid you just made him think of how rude you were, thereby clearing the path for another victim in the future.

  • 2browneyes4 October 31, 2012, 12:01 pm

    I totally empathize with the OP. In fact, when OP says “My face relaxes into a non-smile even when I am happy” I thought of the many times I’ve tried to explain that to people about myself. People say “what are you so mad about?” and “why do you look so mean?” when actually, it’s just my relaxed face that makes people assume something is amiss.

    This also reminds me of a time that I pulled up to a gas station and there were some “car product salespeople” there trying to give a demonstration to everyone pumping gas. I had recently received word of a very violent death in my family and I was gassing up to get on the road for the 5 hour drive to be with my family. A “happy go lucky” salesman approaches me, with a car product spray bottle in one hand and a rag in the other, and asks if I have a minute, I gave him my iciest glare and said “please, I am in a really bad place right this moment and I am in no condition to listen to you right now, I’m sorry.” To his credit, he nodded, said “I understand ma’am, I hope things get better,” and he backed away. I am so grateful that he did because if he had tried to push, I may have lost it and created a very ugly scene.

  • Kendo_Bunny October 31, 2012, 12:34 pm

    The hospital is really the clincher here. It seems the only place you’d be less likely to have a big old smile on your face is a funeral home. It’s not so much condoning rudeness as it is understanding it. If I were going to say my final goodbyes to a beloved family member, I would probably be shocked at being ordered around like a trained seal and may have responded rudely as well.

  • Laura October 31, 2012, 12:35 pm

    I get this a lot- my lips turn down at the corners, so I always look rather grim and cranky. I am so sick of people telling me to smile. Still looking for good comebacks….

    My condolences to the OP.

  • ciotog October 31, 2012, 12:47 pm

    A good friend of mine had a terrible bike accident, and it wasn’t clear at first he was going to survive. I picked up his wife’s parents from the airport to bring them to the hospital, and had to ask the woman at the information desk where the ICU was. After she gave me directions, she added that the Broncos were winning. I might’ve responded similarly to the OP and said, “I don’t give [an F-bomb],” but she was a nun! And not that I would care either way, I’m not a Broncos fan, but honestly, if someone is asking you how to get to the ICU they probably don’t care how the Broncos are doing.

  • BagelLover October 31, 2012, 12:48 pm

    I hate it when people tell me to smile. Its always strange men while I’m walking to work or to visit a friend. It even happens when I’m on the phone with my mom. Its not appropriate for them to demand I smile for their edification. Drives me insane.

  • Michelle October 31, 2012, 1:52 pm

    I don’t understand all the comments about men commanding women to smile. The people who command me to smile are usually other women. They’re not men; they’re simply twits. And very annoying twits they can be!

  • Cat Whisperer October 31, 2012, 2:04 pm

    I think that it’s important for people who are visiting a hospital to remember that they may be encountering other people there who may be having the worst day of their lives: dealing with the death or impending death of a loved one, or with news that a loved one may now be permanently disabled, or that any glimmer of hope of a positive outcome is now gone.

    Telling someone you encounter in a hospital to “Smile!” or “Cheer up!” is just plain crazy. It’s surreal. It isn’t going to help, no matter what the person who is not smiling is dealing with. It is totally inappropriate.

    I gotta add to this: the same may hold true when you bring your pet to the vet’s office. Thankfully, there are some people who “get it” and do react appropriately.

    Some years back, one of my cats was 17 years old and was slowly failing due to progressive kidney disease. The vets and I had been working for four years to keep her going, and we’d been able to give her good quality of life and keep her in reasonable comfort until the very end, when it was all too plain that we’d come to the end of things we could do. It was time to call an end. I went into the vet’s office knowing I was going to euthanize her, a loved companion for 17 years and a very dear, sweet kitty.

    The waiting room was full of people with pets who were there for routine visits: shots, having their animal bathed, minor skin irritations, that sort of thing. And they were chatting and carefree and socializing happily while they waited.

    I took care of the financial end of things with the receptionist first, because I knew that after we finished I would just want to leave the office and go home as fast as I could. Then I sat down to wait, trying to keep from crying.

    One or two of the other people tried to engage me in conversation, but I just shook my head and indicated I wanted to be left alone. Then the vet called me in to say my goodbyes and to hold my beloved Shar kitty while he euthanized her.

    When it was over, I rushed out to my car, blinded by my tears. I was literally unable to open the car door because I was crying so hard.

    A lady about my age came out and told me that she’d asked the receptionist why I had seemed so sad, and the receptionist had told her why I was there. “I lost my dog two years ago, and it was one of the hardest things I went through,” she told me. “I’m sorry for your loss. I know what it’s like.” And she gave me a hug!

    Now I’m not big on hugs, but at that moment that was what I needed, and I have never stopped being grateful to this complete stranger who saw my grief and shared it with me, and tried to let me know she felt empathy for what I was going through. I thanked her, and she asked me about my cat. I told her a little bit, and she just listened. Then she asked me if I was okay to drive home. I thanked her again and told her yes, and I was able to get into the car and get home.

    About a year after that I was able to “pay it forward” when I was at the vet with another cat for a routine visit, and a lady came in to have her elderly dog euthanized. I told her about my cat and that I was so sorry for her loss, and asked her if she was okay. She let me give her a hug and she talked for a moment or two, which from my experience knew would help.

    Hospitals, whether they’re for humans or animals, are places where people can get the worst news possible. It’s important to remember that and to be sensitive to that possibility when you encounter someone. Even if it’s a happy visit for you, that isn’t true for everyone. That’s really important to consider.

  • Shannon October 31, 2012, 2:25 pm

    Admin, just because you’ve experienced the smile command as a generational issue does not mean it is also not a gender issue. As you can see from the wealth of comments here, a large number of people experience this as something men do to young women.

    I for one mentioned that I am now rarely told to smile now that I am a married woman in my thirties, whereas when I was younger strange men told me to smile on a near-daily basis.

    And never in my life have I heard a man tell another man to chin up or buck up. Generally I’ve observed men give each other space and don’t expect fatuous smiles from one another.

  • Lisa October 31, 2012, 2:28 pm

    Gosh, I can relate to that one! Two days after my mother died, a man told me to smile, and when I didn’t (no rude remarks! Just didn’t respond) he called me a stuck-up b…. and some other names, following me down the street as I went.
    It upset me tremendously.
    But this is not etiquette, though. As others have pointed out, it’s rude male behaviour. It might seem odd to call it sexual intimidation, because there are no sexual remarks, but it has the same root cause. It’s very different from a friendly ‘cheer up’ by an older relative, I think.
    Admin, maybe you haven’t been approached by males like this (I imagine you’d know how to deal with them swiftly, lol), but I have, and it’s always a guy trying to pick me up. As I grow older and fatter, it happens a lot less. Definitely gender and sex-related.

  • Karen October 31, 2012, 2:29 pm

    Sorry, I don’t think a man telling another man to buck up is the same thing as a man telling a woman to smile.

  • Claire October 31, 2012, 2:34 pm

    Op I am so sorry for your loss and for your strange experience at the hospital, I agree strangers particularly men seem to do this to younger women. Recently I was in a high end supermarket patisserie dept choosing some nice cakes and pastries as a “goodbye” gift to my colleagues- I’d selected around 10 when I was interrupted by A complete stranger, an older man, who said “Ooh you should think of your figure” to me! I am average sized. Clearly I was not intending to eat 10 cakes but how is that his business anyway? I laughed politely and said “oh don’t worry I shall really enjoy them all” before turning back to my choices…

  • Kendo_Bunny October 31, 2012, 2:38 pm

    I think it depends a lot on people’s experiences. I’ve rarely had older women telling me to smile, but often had men of all ages telling me to smile, especially when I was thinner. I had a boss take me aside and ask me why I never smiled or laughed when he made jokes. I explained that I wasn’t a smiley-laughy person, mostly because I didn’t feel like explaining at work that I was being bullied to the point of abuse at home and at school, and not weeping through my shift was the most I could handle.

    A lot of women do experience this as a gender issue, rather than a generational issue.

  • Jenny October 31, 2012, 2:54 pm

    Admin, in my experience, it’s only older men, and it really slowed down once I got married/engaged (having a ring on your finger gets rid of a lot of unwanted attention). And it has never, ever happened when I was with my husband or dad.

    Maybe it’s not always a sexist thing to do, but I think at least part of the time, it is.

  • Allie October 31, 2012, 2:57 pm

    The man’s comments were completely inappropriate and one hopes he understood that. While I understand how upset you were, I would have to say I agree with Admin the best way to handle this situation would be to completely ignore him. I had a somewhat similar situation crop up after my father passed away, which was on Dec 21, 2001. A few days later I had gone to visit my grandma at her care home. She had dementia and I had made the decision not to tell her he had passed as she could not process or retain such information. I figured this out after repeatedly telling her her niece had died from cancer. Each time I would remind her, it would be like she was hearing the news and experiencing the pain for the first time. I don’t know why it took me so many times to figure out it was cruel to keep reminding her. In any event, here I was dealing with the sudden loss of my father and the angst of what to do about grandma. The care home was very busy that day and I had to park on the residential street next to the parking lot entrance. As I was getting out of my car, a woman approached me and asked how long I would be parked there. I said an hour or so as I dully realized what she was getting at. She then commenced ranting and raving about all the people parking on her street and she could not get a parking spot in front of her own house. I was numb from all I was dealing with so I can’t say how I would have responded under normal circumstances (hmm, perhaps by pointing out it is a public street with no parking restrictions and it isn’t usually that busy but people were attending a special Christmas party at the care home). In the circumstances, I just walked away and I think I made the right decision.

  • OP October 31, 2012, 3:07 pm

    To those who are wondering…yes I am a woman…and yes I am in my mid-twenties. The men who tell (not ask) me to smile range in age. Quite a few have called me names when I don’t oblige their demands. There is a difference between eliciting a smile and demanding one. And by “elicit” I mean being genuine in your approach and not overstepping boundaries. Saying “Good Morning” or “Have a great day” is alot different than “You need to smile because your face is making me sad” (Said to me today on my commute to work.)

    The difference between men telling other men to “chin up” or “buck up” is not the same as a random man walking up to a woman and telling her to smile to please him.

  • Eloe October 31, 2012, 3:08 pm

    I am sorry for your loss, OP.

    Few months ago some man wandered into a Facebook group I belong to, for foreigners in the city (European). He announced he’s just visiting and then proceeded to complain that the people in the city are too gloomy, back home in USA people always say hello and smile when they look at each other, “particularly if it’s a pretty girl.” This especially bothered him on public transport. One smart – male – person quickly pointed out to him that no, young and pretty girls around here are under no obligation to smile at random older men (the complainer did say he was retired) who stare at them on the bus, no matter where he’s from.

  • Goldie October 31, 2012, 3:13 pm

    To me, it’s the word “gorgeous” that makes it a gender issue. No woman has ever called me gorgeous to my knowledge.

  • Kirst October 31, 2012, 3:14 pm

    I have to disagree with admin here. Both men and women will say “chin up” or “buck up” or similar, and they say it to men, women and children, and usually when the person they are saying it to is known to them, sad, and in need of encouragement. I have never ever known a woman say to a complete stranger “smile” or “give us a smile babe” or anything similar, and I have never known a man say it to a man. The OP’s post is absolutely about a gender issue – strange man commanding unknown woman to smile for no reason other than he wants her to. It’s harassment and it needs to stop.

  • Drawberry October 31, 2012, 3:23 pm

    Many people have made this a gender issue because in many scenarios it IS a gender issue. There are folks out there who have put far more time and resources into intelligently discussing the issue then I can put into a single comment so I’ll keep it short.

    There is an entitlement that men have in which they feel they have some kind of sway over a woman. This does not mean it’s intentionally malicious or even something the individual realizes he’s doing and indeed may be done out of misguided ‘niceness’, but many women have widely discussed their own experiences over their lives of dealing with the “smile!” command from strange men. Again, this does not mean the man in question is malicious or a ‘bad guy’, and it certainly doesn’t mean that every instance of this is about gender issues, but rather that we socially have this concept of men holding some kind of power of dictating women’s behavior. Many women do not appreciate a stranger telling her “Smile!” and then tacking on some unwelcome quip about her appearance, it can be demeaning and after years of listening to it even scary at times.

    In my late teens I often was subjected to being eyed up and down like a piece of meat on display by men old enough to be my father who would proceed to lean in and tell me “Smile, sweetheart” and being glued behind the register at my job I had no choice but to suck it up and humor these men who seemed under the impression I was a dancing monkey.

    I don’t find it at all inappropriate that gender issues be brought up in relation to what the gentlemen said because his statement relates to it strongly, being cemented by his unwelcome commentary about the OPs appearance.

    While I certainly do not condone people getting into swearing matches right and left, I think we can take into consideration that the OP was not in her best state of mind and has openly admitted her response was inappropriate. I wouldn’t condemn her to the trenches for this when she was under great duress and felt harassed, certainly I do not condone it but I cannot hold it against her.

  • Ray Friday October 31, 2012, 5:42 pm

    Telling someone to “Smile!” seems to run along the lines of “It’ll turn out okay,” or “You’ll figure it out.” During a very difficult time in my life, I realized that these comments hurt more than they help. They’re really just a means to take the responsibility of helping someone in need, and throwing it back on them. When I went to people for help, and heard “You’ll figure it out,” I heard in my head: “This is your responsibility, not mine. I’m not going to help you. Do it yourself.” Even telling someone “Let me know if you need any help,” while a step in the right direction, still places the responsibility upon them to figure out what kind of help they need. And if they knew what kind of help they needed, they would get it.

    When people are in such a situation, all they feel is pain, anxiety, fear, and depression. That is all they can focus on. They can’t break out of it alone, and smiling hurts more than it helps. They need someone to help them. Even just the feel of a hand on one’s the shoulder–an expression from someone that they see your pain, and that they wish they could do something about it–can do wonders.

  • ali October 31, 2012, 7:33 pm

    I feel for the OP.

    I have one of those faces that is naturally down turned. When I worked in retail I heard “smile!” or “why are you angry!” or some variation all the time. I can’t do a half smile, it looks like I’m grimacing which is worse.

    From my experience it’s mostly men who are more demanding that I smile “Smile for me.” “You’d look prettier if you smile.” and women are more “cheer up.” which is less demanding.

    I’ve also had men be very aggressive about trying to get me to smile or some other situation that is more harassment. Sometimes when a man says “smile” it is a precursor to more harassing behavior. Case in point, I’ve been out at the mall and had some guy tell me to “Smile. You’ll look pretty” and when I said nothing he escalated it saying things like “what you don’t like me/you mad at me” and culminating with “bitch”. The guy was actually following me but left. This was when I was much younger.

    Also if you go to the Hollaback website (where women/girls tell their stories about street harassment) you’ll find that a lot of the stories start with men demanding women/girls smile and getting very aggressive when the women/girls don’t respond.

    I don’t know if I could say, in the OP’s position, I wouldn’t have let a swear word slip (and then later regret it) but I probably would have been blunt “My grandfather’s dying.”

    Although I think in the future if someone demands I smile I may demand that they frown. Not polite I know but the temptation is there.

  • Angela October 31, 2012, 8:24 pm

    I’m not praising the OP but her response was very understandable. Sometimes a person needs to hear the exact unvarnished truth, even if it hurts. The man who told her to smile, IMHO, might well have reflected on what he said and why he should use better judgement in the future.

  • yankeegal77 October 31, 2012, 8:42 pm

    First, OP, I am so very sorry for your loss.

    That man was terribly rude and I’m sorry that you had to deal with such a chauvinist creep on a terrible day like that. They are awful even on the best of days.

    And yes, I said chauvinist creep because this was very much a gender issue. Telling a (presumably) younger woman, or any woman for that matter, to show her “gorgeous” smile is a sexist, condescending thing to say. And fix your face? Please.

    As I’ve mentioned a few times in various posts, I receive a lot of unwanted attention and it’s pretty much never that a woman would say something. (The exception to this being a non-gender-non-jerk situation is if I’m upset about something and a close friend uses that line. There are variables to every situation.)

    This is completely inappropriate anywhere; for a hospital setting, this guy gets double time in E-Hell.

  • SJ October 31, 2012, 10:51 pm

    On whether it’s a gender issue. I have NEVER heard someone tell a boy or a man to just smile.

    I’ve been told by both men and women to “just smile,” almost always strangers, and more often men than women.

  • waitress wonderwoman October 31, 2012, 11:46 pm

    OP, I am so sorry for your loss. Cyber hugs to you. I can’t say I wouldn’t have had the same reaction as you did.
    I know this is in no way is as harsh or serious as your experience, but I can not tell you how many times I’ve been bartending on a very busy night, basically getting my butt kicked trying to keep up with getting people their precious drinks and some jerk (always a man) looks at me and says “Smile”. It drives me (and anyone I know who has ever worked in the service industry) insanely mad! I do understand that in the service industry, it is important to be friendly but come on! I have 20 people waiting for me to get them drinks and I really don’t appreciate you trying to flirt or be cute with me right now. And, almost always, these are the same men that don’t tip (smile or not)!!And of course, never, ever has this happened to a male bartender that I know of. Like I said, I know this doesn’t compare to OP’s experience, but I beg, beg, beg anyone reading this to please never do this! You’ll most likely get an eye roll instead (and possibly a short-pour). Just sayin’.

  • Allison November 1, 2012, 1:34 am

    Hmmm…. I am wondering if I am just oblivious to this ever happening to me, or whether this is an American cultural thing that I dont experience in my part of Australia. I read every single one of your comments, and was racking my brain the whole time trying to think if this has ever happened to me, but for the life of me I cant remember.
    I will definitely be on the look out for this ever happening. But I am a pretty smiley person by nature (I like to pass on smiles, I like to believe it makes peoples days better) so perhaps that may be why.
    I would have to say that I would absolutely hate it if someone ever said to me what some of you have experienced, especially on a daily basis! My God, you must be absolutely sick of it.

  • Kate November 1, 2012, 4:58 am

    OP, you won’t be the first person to react inappropriately to something due to your grief. I’m not condoning swearing at strangers, and you yourself recognise it wasn’t the best way to react, but losing somebody you love is a difficult time. I’m sorry for your loss.
    I do agree with everyone saying this is a gender issue. I am twenty two, and engaged so I do wear a ring, and I’m not even pretty (I’m just plain) but I frequently have older men make this comment. I don’t get it from men my age, and I don’t get it from women. I have also noticed that if I’m dressed nicely I get it more. I have been told by my friends that I do have the sort of face where when I’m not smiling I look miserable, even if in fact I’m neutral but just not beaming at the world.
    But I find being approached or spoken to by strangers in the street very nerve wracking, and my usual response is a very tight lipped slight smile and then hurrying away.
    I get it at work, but as I work in retail, I do make an effort to smile at every customer and especially if I’m serving them, so behind a till I do see it as different – if I have called you to my till to serve you, I will smile at you.
    From strange men in the street however, when I’m doing my shopping or heading to meet somebody, I find it intimidating – especially because it only happens when I’m alone. As far as I’m concerned, older men shouldn’t approach young women in the street for any reason, even if it’s something disguised as concern.

  • KS November 1, 2012, 6:15 am

    OP- I’m sorry about your grandfather. I’ve had similar experiences- ‘Why are you so serious?, ‘What’s not to smile about?’, or my personal fav: ‘You know, you’d be so pretty if you smiled!’ (said to me when I was 14! 14!). I’m pretty enough, thanks.

  • Michelle November 1, 2012, 6:15 am

    @Cat Whisperer — I loved your post. What a wonderful story you told, and what a wonderful world it would be if everyone were as empathetic as that. I had tears while reading it – my beloved dog is getting up there in age, and I dread what’s ahead. But people like that woman you encountered, and people like you, really do help!!!! Beautiful post and story.

  • Kate November 1, 2012, 6:24 am

    I cannot conceive of somebody who would be commanding others to smile, in a hospital no less. Talk about mind your own business! I probably would have been too stunned even to drop the F bomb, let alone form a witty comeback.

  • Tom November 1, 2012, 6:45 am

    Admin, I’m surprised you’re not surprised. Many of the stories I’m reading in comments regarding this issue do seem to support the idea that this is a gendered irritation most of the time. Perhaps your experience is different, but I’ve had a couple men demand that I smile for them. It seems to come from a sense of entitlement to see younger women looking “pretty” for their benefit, and isn’t meant to really uplift the person at all. It’s an exertion of power over someone who has less power in the society.

    It makes me sad that this happens, but it does not surprise me in the slightest, given how our society teaches men entitlement. Many break free of this cult of masculinity, but many others do not.

  • Twik November 1, 2012, 7:40 am

    The strangest thing I had happen to me was when leaving a hospital after visiting my dying friend for the last time. A stranger struck up a conversation in the elevator. Not so offensive – he was presumably seeing someone else in ICU, but he ended up trying to sell me a water purifier, and insisted that I at least take his card before I could get away.

    I presume this was some sort of MLM thing.

  • Amber November 1, 2012, 9:40 am

    Huh. I just assumed in general that the men-telling-women-to-smile (particularly younger or younger-looking women) was an obviously gendered thing, mostly because all of my female friends have stories of men — only men, sometimes strangers — telling them to smile when their face was at rest or when they weren’t feeling well. I once went to a party where the discussion came up, and every woman in the room had a story about a guy who wanted her to smile. Some of the men in the stories seemed generally clueless and good-intentioned, some were openly hostile when she either refused or responded in the negative.

    One friend in general, who was a lovely young woman, had a rather grumpy face when she was thinking hard or studying. She got the smile command all the time from men in coffee shops where she parked her books or in the library, and she would get super exhasperated.

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard a guy complain about someone coming up to them and telling them to smile. I just think it’s assumed that men don’t have to smile all the time, while women who don’t smile, even if their face isn’t actually frowning, are somehow not properly put together.

  • Nica November 1, 2012, 10:28 am

    So sorry for your loss and even more sorry that you experienced this. As commenters have pointed out, this isn’t a question of rudeness. It’s a question of sexism. Many men forget that there are a variety of reasons why a woman might be walking around outside, apart from showing off how cute she looks in her new jeans or something. We go to work, important meetings, funerals, get fired, celebrate births and weddings and do not think about showing anyone a gorgeous smile on the way. Personally, I have taken to making up a scenario for why I’m not smiling and tell them straight out because it tends to catch people off guard. I do not agree that ignoring people’s rudeness is all they deserve because this isn’t about rudeness. It’s about feeling entitled to being surrounded by pretty smiling women, no matter what is happening in their lives.

  • SMSinTX November 1, 2012, 10:28 am

    What IS the appropriate response to a complete stranger ordering a person in distress to entertain him? Maybe this woman’s response will make the man think twice the next time he desires to be a complete jerk toward another person.

  • --Lia November 1, 2012, 11:33 am

    Cammie– That’s brilliant! I hope to use it the next time some guy tells me to smile. It doesn’t happen often, but if it should, I’ll be ready to tell him to dance. Thank-you. It’s perfect.

  • MiseryLovesYou November 1, 2012, 12:19 pm

    Once I was with a man who said a version of this. Living in Florida at the time, and Australian friend of mine and I were in St. Augustine when we drove past an elderly man and woman who were preparing for a bike ride. Both people had toy poodles in little forward-facing carries strapped to their chests. They were about the cutest couple I have ever seen in my life, with their tiny dog backpacks and their matching bikes.

    It was all too much for my friend, who whipped out his cell phone and pulled over to the side of the road, leaned out the window and commanded, “give us a smile, loves”. The craziest part was, they lit up like Christmas and posed for him making sure the doggies were looking at the camera too! Either they were used to having strangers do the same, or the Australian accent disarmed them. I was kind of mortified, but I shall treasure that picture forever.

  • fvd November 1, 2012, 12:41 pm

    I work at the reference desk in a library…there seems to be something about sitting behind a desk that leads people to think they have the right to comment on your facial expression. I cannot recall having someone order me to “smile”, but I have had so many people describe my expression: “You look like you’re concentrating…” “You look angry…” etc. It does get annoying, as I do soften my expression and smile when anyone approaches me needing help. But the drive-by commentators usually just get a light laugh, or, if I’m feeling less generous, a tight smile. If someone were as obnoxious to me in a similar context, I don’t know that I would have responded any better than the OP.

  • Ann November 1, 2012, 1:38 pm

    The man was a total boor to say that to anyone, let along someone visiting a hospital for pete’s sake. I can’t condone the swearing, but I sure do understand.

  • Missy November 1, 2012, 3:24 pm

    Just to comment about the idea that it’s always men asking women to smile. I (female) have been told to smile by women before. I’ve been told in a “watch out, you aren’t attractive right now” way sort of like someone warning me about a tag sticking out or smeared lipstick. Though I’m not sure the gender switch makes the sentiment any less sexist or demeaning.

    I’ll agree that generally the person demanding a smile THINKS that they are doing a favor and it might be out of good intentions. You know what they say about good intentions? I’ll be the first to admit that it’s hard to praise good intentions when they just aren’t thought through that well.

  • Cat Whisperer November 1, 2012, 3:41 pm

    @Michelle, thank you.

    The kindness of that woman at the vet’s office will stay with me to my dying day. I am grateful beyond words that she reached out to me to share my grief. I wish there was more kindness like that in the world.

  • Tsunoba November 1, 2012, 10:57 pm

    @Cammie: I got a good laugh out of that story. Thanks.

    @VZG: Out of curiosity, does VZG stand for anything in particular? I knew someone online who went by that name, and it’d be a funny coincidence if you happened to be Vampire Zombie Girl.

    @OP: Wow. I know I’m repeating everyone else, but who does that in a HOSPITAL? And I totally know what you mean by people reacting to your neutral expression.

    This also kind of reminds me of how people will ask how my day is going, and when I respond with “Okay,” they ask, “Just okay?”

    It’s like they expect me to always have either a good day or a bad day with no in-betweens. If nothing abnormally good has happened, then I’m not likely to say that it’s anything besides average.

  • Sarah November 2, 2012, 12:36 am

    Note… Men telling (not asking) women to smile is extremely commonplace, and very very different than telling someone to cheer up. It’s happened to me, it’s happened to nearly all of my female friends regardless of their natural facial expression. It’s actually a mild form of negging — A man sees something “wrong” with a woman he’s interested in. Then he tells her what is wrong with her and that she’s not pleasing him. Then the woman “corrects” her behavior, which gives him a measure of control over her. Or she doesn’t, he gets pissed, and then it’s “her” fault because she’s a “{any derogatory word}” when he was “just trying to be nice”. Win-win for his ego, lose-lose for her. That’s why it’s so popular.

    Regardless, although I can give a pass for being overly emotional, I don’t condone swearing at all in public. It’s trashy. The best response is Cammie’s with the dancing.

  • penguintummy November 2, 2012, 5:08 am

    Oh how much I hate it when random people tell you ‘cheer up! It’s not that bad’. Why do we need to be Mary Sunshine 24/7? As the OP says, she was very upset. Humans aren’t happy permanently.

  • Chicalola November 2, 2012, 8:23 am

    This happened to me in the ER waiting room, while I was waiting to be seen for a possible miscarriage. I was with my husband, and this guy kept trying to talk to me. I’m assuming he wanted to cheer me up…..but really? In the ER waiting room…..it’s not place for chit chat with strangers. After another unsuccessful attempt, that I again ignored, my husband looked at him and just said, “not a good time”. He finally left us alone. I think it’s great that a person wants to help, and it’s often appreciated. But upset people in a hospital are probably best left alone, unless they ask.

  • Lacey November 2, 2012, 9:54 am

    @Sarah, you put it perfectly with the “negging” breakdown. Exactly.

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