Smile? I just don't feel like it.
November 7, 2006 7:38 PM   Subscribe

Help me get people to leave me and my pearly whites alone!

At my workplace, people are constantly coming up to me and telling me to smile. I don't want to smile. I'm just not that person. It's usually the same ten or so people every day, and it's beginning to grate on my nerves. These guys don't realize that I will smile when I have reason to, not when they want me to. I do not work closely with them or know them well at all, aside from first name/department.

Perhaps they're just being nice; I don't know. I do know that I'm tired of it, and sometimes there are just times when you don't want to smile and no response is going to be a good one. "Smile! It's not like anyone died!" "Uh, actually..."

Anyone have any good comebacks to the "Smile!" command? Extra points if it conveys that they should not say the same thing tomorrow or the day after that. Simply saying "I don't feel like it" opens up a can of worms I just don't want to go into with them, and these people know fake smiles (or I'm bad at them) so that's out. Bonuses for witty verbal bitchslaps of sorts as it will probably make me geniunely smile when I say it.
posted by sephira to Human Relations (41 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

Miss Manners suggests the response to "Have a nice day" of "Thank you, but I have other plans."
posted by textilephile at 7:50 PM on November 7, 2006 [5 favorites]

"Christ, what an asshole!" seems popular these days.
posted by kindall at 7:52 PM on November 7, 2006

1. How about just saying: "why?"
2. "I am... on the inside."
3. "OK, but only if you cry."
4. Look concerned for a moment, and then say: "I seem to have left my smile at home today. Sorry! Try again tomorrow."
5. "That's the name of a Brian Wilson album, isn't it? Well, what about it?"
6. "I don't smile for free, you have to tell me a joke first."
7. "Honey, you're not that cute."
posted by epimorph at 7:58 PM on November 7, 2006 [6 favorites]

"I'll smile if you sit up and beg. (pause) C'mon!!!! Sit up and beg!!! Gooooooood boooooyyyyyy!!!!!"
posted by The Deej at 8:00 PM on November 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

This used to happen to me all the time, until I turned it into an opportunity for surrealism:

Them: Smile! No one died.
Me: Actually, someone did die. My dear grandfather.
Them: Oh no! That's terrible...are you okay?
Me: Yes, actually, this was in 1993. But wouldn't it have been hilarious if it happened right before you said that?
Them: ...

This sort of dialog is also effective at putting the kibosh on nosy questions, requests for lunch, and other forms of aggressively friendly interpersonal office mayhem.
posted by melissa may at 8:06 PM on November 7, 2006 [5 favorites]

This has been a problem for me. I decided to do something about it after it became a regular discussion topic in therapy. I found that an effective response was to actually smile and then tell the coworker, in the sweetest voice possible, that I would rip their heart out of their chest if they told me to smile again. This only works if the annoying coworker is male, and you are a relative small, unthreatening lady.
posted by lunalaguna at 8:07 PM on November 7, 2006

I get this from time to time, and my dad does as well. I think it's because when I'm thinking about something or preoccupied my face sets into a slightly angry expression, I don't really know. (I'm a cheerful guy, really!).

You could just smile in the most awful, tooth baring grimace style way of smiling you can, and ask `how's that?' through gritted teeth.
posted by tomble at 8:10 PM on November 7, 2006

what idiots!

when this has happened to me, i do one of two things:

1. bare my teeth in a hideous grimace

2. open up a dialogue by asking, "why do people ask other people to smile? it seems really weird to me." but i don't know if you could get away with it.
posted by sdn at 8:11 PM on November 7, 2006

Look at them and with a completely straight face and a flat voice say "I am smiling."
posted by tastybrains at 8:15 PM on November 7, 2006 [5 favorites]

I used to get this constantly when I was bartending. I find that when I concentrate or when I'm really preoccupied, my normal face is a bit frown-ish. At first it bothered me to think that everyone thought I looked so stern, until I had to hear it about 20 times a night from drunken fratboys when all I'm trying to do is make three drinks at once while simultaneously doing math in my head and trying not to trip over my coworkers.

Point of the story is I really like Melissa May's answer. It's guaranteed to shut these people down.

I also like "I don't smile for free..." I mean, who are these people who think everything is rosy for everyone all the time?
posted by Brittanie at 8:24 PM on November 7, 2006

I find that it really kills people's spirits when, after they've asked you something stupid like this, you sit in silence for a second, then lock eyes with them and say, "You know, you are really annoying."
posted by JPowers at 8:29 PM on November 7, 2006 [3 favorites]

Are you doing a public relations job? If so, your facial expression might conceivably be someone else's business. Otherwise, it's just plain rude for someone else to try to dictate what you do with your face.

If your face does settle into a slightly grim expression, you have an advantage. Meet their eyes, tilt your head a little, and give them a stare.

They'll stop.
posted by zadcat at 8:48 PM on November 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

"My job is not to make you feel better about your life."

Guys tend to do this to women a lot, as if it's our sworn duty in life to make them feel better about themselves. You're not a decoration, you're a person. Just tell them so.
posted by occhiblu at 9:07 PM on November 7, 2006 [6 favorites]

I get this a lot, because my neutral expression looks frowny to people. Of late, I've found "What makes you think I'm not smiling?" works quite well.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:11 PM on November 7, 2006

I would probably look up with a no-nonsense expression and say "Sorry, I'm in the middle of something here. Did you have a question?"

You could try "Please don't ask me to smile. I appreciate the thought, but really I'm just too busy with work to worry about whether I'm smiling. Thanks."

But basically, they're probably doing this because they're on autopilot. This is their way of interacting with women in the office that they don't know. They think it's light and friendly and not so flirty that it will make you uncomfortable. The best thing would be if you can re-set their autopilot by establishing some other little jokey thing you two can say to each other. If you establish that they have to tell you a little joke when they see you, great. If you can tell them you're from Texas, it will become "Hey there Tex"; if you tell them you have a dog, it'll be "How's the dog?"; if you put up a new cartoon on your board each day they can ask about that... or whatever. Any substitute will do just fine. But you don't want to get into a big flap with them over whether you smile or not, and right now that's all they've got.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:13 PM on November 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

1) "Die in a fire."
2) "Earn it."
3) "I'm at work."
4) "Another way to mask pain is through the consumption of alcohol."
5) "Dance."
6) "I haf no teef."
7) "Who are you again?"
8) "Hahaha, yeah, assholes ask me that all the time."
9) "I will not be complicit in your self-delusion."
10) "Die ... in a fire?"
posted by user92371 at 9:15 PM on November 7, 2006 [3 favorites]

"I smile when I'm happy or if I think something's funny, not when I'm told to", or to quote Judge Brandeis: "The fundamental right of civilized people is the right to be left alone".

If I'm really pissed :"Don't fucking tell me to smile!!!!"
posted by brujita at 9:25 PM on November 7, 2006 [3 favorites]

I think at some workplaces, a politely phrased request to "Smile!" is really just a tactful way of saying, "I find that your workplace attitude is unacceptably negative. Fix it or I will fire you/complain about you to your boss." This is too bad, really; but it is a fact of workplace life.

You might want to re-think the idea of a snappy comeback in light of this.
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:26 PM on November 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

(as quietly and calmly and with as straight a face as possible)

"Don't worry about me not smiling. When I do start to smile... well that my friend... is when you should begin to worry."
posted by haveanicesummer at 9:34 PM on November 7, 2006 [4 favorites]

Counter with a command of your own. "Jump!" "Frown!" "Grimace!" "Gesticulate!"
posted by furiousthought at 9:48 PM on November 7, 2006 [3 favorites]

Epimorph's #3 looks like a winner to me.

If you're being ordered to smile, you might try an immediate, firm, look-em-in-the-eye, 'No.' If they continue to intrude on you after this, you have every right to walk away without another word.

On the other hand, they may not actually give you on order: 'Why don't you smile more?' This you can compare to other bodily functions: 'Why don't you burp more? I smile when I want to.'
posted by eritain at 10:33 PM on November 7, 2006

Yeah, happens to me a lot too. I have the same problem (?) as some of the others above - my neutral expression looks angry to most people. Fortunately, it's not usually people I know who give me the "Smile" command but more frequently it's completely random strangers on the street, on the bus, waiting in line. People who really have no business telling me what to do with my face. Usually I just give them an even angrier face back or what I call a WTF? face and don't even bother with a verbal response. At the most, the only verbal response I ever give is just a quizzical, yet clearly annoyed "Why?" back to them.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 10:44 PM on November 7, 2006

"please deposit twenty-five cents for the next three minutes".
posted by Izzmeister at 12:21 AM on November 8, 2006

Maybe a combination of "Pardon?" and a look like they've just said something really bizarre. Followed up with a perplexed and/or offended look if they are dumb enough to actually repeat it.

Rinse and repeat if they come back for seconds the next day. If they come back for thirds then you probably have to be content in the knowledge that there's a special place reserved in hell just for them.
posted by sarahw at 12:32 AM on November 8, 2006 [1 favorite]

I think it is worth noting that the vast majority of the suggested responses here will make you come across as a bit of an asshole.

Personally I would prefer to be thought of as someone who doesn't smile than an asshole, but others may disagree.
posted by mr_silver at 12:43 AM on November 8, 2006

Best answer: I bet you're a woman and that most of the people who say this to you are men. I've read a few books on business culture for women that address the "Smile!" phenomenon, which is very common. They say that in office environments, and other places where hierarchy is important and confrontation and competition are a fact of life, smiling is a submissive behavior meant to show that you are non-threatening. You would smile, for example, when attempting to defuse a tense situation and avoid a confrontation. To make a broad generalization, men in business culture expect women to smile regularly because they expect most women to exhibit submissive behaviors towards them. Sometimes a woman who doesn't smile "enough" is perceived by men as challenging or threatening confrontation, and the orders to smile are an attempt to restore her behavior to the expected norms. This is probably not even a conscious calculation for most people. It's just something they perceive as "off" that they want to correct.

If you're just concentrating and not actively scowling, my advice is to not worry about your facial expression. A serious, no-nonsense look is not a bad thing in the office. However, I'd also not be overly confrontational with people who tell you to smile as that can easily create bad blood and will teach them that they can get a rise out of you. I'd just respond with a very short, professional comment along the lines of "Can I help you with something? I'm pretty deep in thought here right now", like LobsterMitten's first suggestion. Be friendly as you say it and don't apologize. This makes it clear that you're not angry or confrontational but that you aren't someone to order around and you won't rise to the bait of their "innocent" jokes. If someone pushes it further, then you can be more firm - "I appreciate your advice but this deadline is looming and it's all I have time for right now. I'll catch up with you later". If they still don't take the hint, then they really want to screw with you and you can consider biting back a bit - "If you have all this free time to worry about other peoples' facial expressions, then why don't you make yourself useful and help me with [task-you'd-like-to-delegate]?" Delivered with the right air of detached amusement, that should defuse the situation nicely.
posted by rhiannon at 12:49 AM on November 8, 2006 [24 favorites]

This happens to me. Lately I see it happening at airports where I am putting on my best neutral face to deal with stupid security theater and the guy tells me to smile right before I walk through the metal detector towards him. I usually just reply with a fairly neutral "I'm okay, thanks" as if they'd asked me what was wrong, which is really how I hear the "Smile!" command. When I was younger, I'd more often hear a longer version "You'd be so much prettier if you smiled" to which numerous wiseass responses are available.

Unless I'm feeling churlish, I'll usually do what I said above, or say "Excuse me?" though sometimes in the airport I'll just stare at the guys with a sort of blankish "I can't believe you just said that" expression.
posted by jessamyn at 2:26 AM on November 8, 2006

LobsterMitten, as usual, has it right. No matter how annoying this is, the guys think they're being friendly and it would be kind of untoward to be openly mean back, the way many posters are suggesting, since you have to work with them. You just need to develop some other greeting routine with them -- maybe it'll even be a little rewarding to get to know them better and chat a little every day. Engage in an authentic way and get past the platitudes.

That said, I totally understand how annoying this is, particularly the gender aspect. I get the "smile baby it's not that bad" all the time, and if it's some dude on the street I'm as likely as not to tell him to go to hell. But that's not really appropriate with coworkers.
posted by footnote at 4:32 AM on November 8, 2006

Eyeroll with an exasperated sigh.
posted by plinth at 4:55 AM on November 8, 2006

Rhiannon has hit the nail on the head.
People need to mind their own business.
Here in the South we often say, "Well, bless your heart" when someone says something unbelievably rude or inconsiderate or just plain wrong. I think that's a good comeback. It works even without the twang. It's snarky without being outwardly aggressive.
posted by FergieBelle at 5:19 AM on November 8, 2006 [2 favorites]

I actually was fired from a job for lack of smiling. It was in a restaurant not unlike the one in "Office Space" and I could just as easily been fired for not displaying enough "flair". But "you're not smiling enough" was the actual reason the El Corral gave me the boot. (One would think that with half the staff in the walk-in fridge doing the gas in the whipped-cream cans at any given time that there would have been more levity at this place, but this was not so.)
posted by Wylie Kyoto at 7:28 AM on November 8, 2006

When I see a smiler-commander coming towards me I start doing something intently (even if it's just making marks on a piece of paper). When they come by and command me, I wait a second, then say, "Pardon, you caught me in the middle of something. What did you say?"

They're usually too embarassed to repeat it. If they do, I pull out my dayplanner, consult it, and say, "I'm kinda busy this morning with project X, but can handle it this afternoon. Would 3 PM be good?"

If their request is a trick to "out" you as unhelpful or surly, you've circumvented it (how could any boss be angry at you when you are scheduling in times to do everything requested of you, even something as idiotic as smiling?). If this is to make the smile-requester feel more powerful, they'll soon realize that going through this process each day just to get a smile is really a big hassle, and will stop.
posted by holyrood at 8:00 AM on November 8, 2006

I've had people tell me to "smile" a lot in workplaces, and my response is usually to make very clear eye contact, and offer a quick, firm, and direct: "No."

After a couple of times, they usually don't don't command me to smile anymore.
posted by Greg Nog at 9:49 AM on November 8, 2006

"It's none of your business what my emotions are or my face looks like, thanks."

I don't know your sex, but to me, men saying this to women are often sexist. They see women as cute little objects that must be pretty for them to look at, and if you're not beaming, it annoys them.

Since you're in the office, you must be polite. Out in public, if strangers say it, I give them a big old, "Fuck you."
posted by agregoli at 9:55 AM on November 8, 2006

God Rhiannon -- thank you for posting that. This has been the story of my life and I've always suspected...

Best of luck to you Sephira! I have no advice, but I certainly feel for you.
posted by Kloryne at 6:59 PM on November 8, 2006

I just ignore people like that. It's like kindergarten bullies - if they don't get a response, eventually they'll give up or figure out it's not working.
posted by jesirose at 7:51 PM on November 8, 2006

1. "Make me."
2. "I don't see a camera."
3. "Oh sorry, you just missed one."
4. "Why — are you a clown?"
posted by rob511 at 11:43 PM on November 8, 2006

Sorry, it's the Botox.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 9:27 AM on November 9, 2006

this actually reminds me, my girlfriend told me once about how she walked by a mall cell phone kiosk and rather than attempting to hawk her a phone, the guy said

"smile! it only gets better."

she told me she wasn't sure if he meant life in general, or the mall.
posted by haveanicesummer at 5:49 PM on November 11, 2006

"I was going to smile before you said that, and now, strangely, I don't feel like smiling at all."
posted by beth at 12:30 AM on November 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

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