Wednesday, December 3, 2008

On Smiles as a No-no

I got onto the bus in the morning; a bus driver smiled and greeted me with "Góðan daginn”. I smiled and returned the greeting. An elderly lady sat alone near the window, I smiled and góðan daginned her too. She nodded, smiled and... frowned. As soon as I took my seat, she asked me something in Icelandic, which I didn't quite catch. "Sorry, I don't understand,” apologized I. "Do I know you?" she switched to English. "No." “But why did you smile at me? You don't know me but you smiled at me. Why?” she kept pressing. “I am in a good mood?", by now I was amused but slightly worried about the direction of our conversation. "Are you from America?” interrogated she. "Yes," overcoming the urge to smile, I hesitantly replied. "Oh, ok then," she sighed with relief, "but we don't do it here, so you know." And thus my education on local customs was finished.

This exchange reminded me of my husband's policy not to smile at strangers. "If I smile at a woman,” he rationalizes, “she might think that I am flirting with her, which isn't good since I am married. And if I smile at a man...Why on earth I will be smiling at a man? So, I just don't smile at strangers."

Oddly enough, recalling this conversation makes me grin.

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