Tag Archive | smiling

The difference between being friendly and being familiar

                One of the guidelines of behavior I attempt to maintain is a working application of the difference between being friendly and being familiar (or being friends).  On the surface it sounds complicated, but I have found that doing so has helped me to become more professional in the process of everyday transactions.  This is important to me because although you may always be familiar with those close to you, you needn’t be familiar with just anyone, such as grocery cashiers, salesman, and people who queue with you.  However, you can always be friendly no matter what;  the key is to know how far to go without crossing the boundary of acting like friends when you are really just strangers or acquaintances. 

                With my family and friends, I already know what the boundaries and comfort levels are of the various relationships.  Therefore, the purpose of this post is to give my basic guidelines for being friendly to those not close to me without my being familiar.  The first thing I do is make a pleasant face upon making eye contact with any person.  Not only does this put my best face forward and enhance my image, it is also courteous to others who did nothing to deserve a scowl or glare.  I don’t necessarily initiate a smile at everyone, depending on the feeling I get at the moment.  The reason is that I don’t want to appear too glib or naive or to be encouraging unwanted attention.  I also don’t think it’s realistic to walk around with a 24/7 pasted on smile, and when I try that, it looks fake.  I do try to return all smiles I’m given.  The technicalities of facial expressions vary amongst us all, and I don’t expect anyone to follow my preferences exactly.  This is just the way that has been right for me.

                The second way I distinguish between friendliness and familiarity is in greeting.  I am not the type that waves for no reason at strangers while driving.  I wave to thank and that’s it.  I have lived in areas where waving at every random pickup truck that passed on the dirt road was the thing to do, and I don’t think it’s wrong. It’s just a level of familiarity with strangers that I don’t feel obligated to maintain.  I don’t greet people in person for no reason.  I don’t go up to random cute children, polished women, or handsome men and gush all over them.  I feel like they didn’t come to the gift shop or the cafe to be greeted by me, another customer.  You can tell by my tone that nothing like that has ever happened to me and my family before.  🙂  I always try to return a greeting when spoken to me–that’s basic courtesy.  I always greet (and try to be the first to greet) people I have chosen to interact with, such as those I am on hand to do business with, or someone whose assistance I need.  I try not to start any conversation with someone without an appropriate greeting first (such as, “Excuse me, ma’am, could you tell me where the peanut butter is?” instead of “Where is the peanut butter? “).

                Besides greeting, interactions with strangers also involve addressing them.  My preference here is for “ma’am” and “sir” for anyone who looks above 18 or so.  I cannot abide being referred to as “miss,” “miz,” “hun,” “sweetheart,” “mom,” or “hey you” and thus do not call others by these epitaphs.   Again, your mileage may vary, but I feel the pitfall of familiarity is avoided completely by using the formal “ma’am” and “sir.” 

                After greeting and addressing someone a conversation usually follows.  Sometimes the conversation is crucial to the interaction, such as discussing options for a major household purchase, and other times it occurs to pass the time, such as while the groceries are scanned.  This is the time that many people, mostly inadvertently I’m sure, cross the boundary between being friendly and being familiar.  I never feel obligated to share personal information such as names, ages, school enrollment, addresses, occupations, etc.  This is my preference;  I’m not paranoid that the person interrogating my children on their school’s name and grade level is going to stalk them.  I just think that as a whole society needs to go back to minding its own business, and the details of my life simply do not have to be shared with anyone who pleases.  Last Friday night, I made a late grocery run and encountered a chatty cashier at the evening’s end.  He asked me if I had any plans for the weekend.  I replied that I have plans most days.  He said, “Aren’t you going to tell me what they are?”  I replied that no, I don’t share personal details with grocery cashiers;  I prefer that they just do their job and that they not attempt to make friends with me.

                This is probably sounding really cold going up on the internet.  But I really would be happy if customers and service providers alike would just focus on accomplishing their intended purpose without adding unnecessary familiarity to the process.  The way my personality is (woman? introvert? who knows), any sort of personal interaction requires an emotional effort from me, and I prefer to reserve that effort for my actual friends and people I care about.  I also easily get flustered so keeping things professional definitely makes life easier for me.  And even though I think being friendly is a good idea, I would rather someone be a bit gruff and taciturn than that they go on and on grilling me about my life.  I’m just trying to buy the food, people!

Having a pleasant face

               A lovely facial expression is the hallmark of good character and upbringing. When observing other women, the first thing I notice is their faces. Some faces are accented by a cell phone or a cigarette. Others are marred with scowls, wrinkles, or frowns. Some faces even appear frozen in some kind of neutral-negative look, not a frown but definitely not a happy look. It was a look I greatly wanted to avoid! For many years, I believed the solution to a deadpan expression was to wear a smile, just like wearing a hat in sunny weather. Smile! It’s an action. It’s a positive step that guarantees a result, so that must mean smiling will bring about the positive results one desires in cultivating a gentle feminine facial expression. But is that all there is to it?

               When planting a garden, a woman knows that time and effort are involved. She plants the seeds, but must trust them to bring forth the fruit of their own accord. And she must wait for it. When seeking to present to others with an exquisite, hand-raised Victorian garden of copious, delectable blooms, it would be silly to display a plot of land hastily strewn with plastic flowers stuck in the dirt. Thus it is with a smile; a plastered on smile compared to a real one is like a plastic flower stuck in the ground compared to a true bloom.

               In order to develop a truly lovely face, one must plant seeds just as one would in her flower beds. But as with any garden, one should first think about the goals she is going for. I don’t know about others, but when planning my beds I like variety. I usually plant at least one night or evening blooming variety, always at least three different heights, with small plants along the border and the tallest at the back, at least one variety to deter pests, and sometimes even an edible variety. Different flowers for different seasons. Some plants have ornamental foliage and don’t flower at all. Others only flower for a few brief minutes at dusk or dawn, when the sun isn’t shining too strongly. When planning the form of a lovely countenance, one must consider the looks she is planning to wear based on the times and seasons of her life. Many misconceptions exist about how a woman’s face should look, and the main one is that more smiling is better. In fact, some even go so far as to advocate smiling all the time, even if this does not suit a particular woman’s personality or preferences.

               A brief internet search of ways to increase one’s good manners, attractiveness, or femininity is to smile more. Smile! Smile! Smile at strangers, smile when someone hurts your feelings, smile when you feel awkward or embarrassed. However, a savvy woman need not always smile at everyone or in every situation. Forcing a smile when someone hurts her feelings is fake, yet authenticity is becoming of a well-bred woman. Smiling at a man who is making comments or gestures that intimidate a woman can certainly send the wrong message. Smiling constantly can even make one’s face hurt. Trust me, I proved that on my wedding day.

               I am pretty sure I have read in a book about brain science that smiling when one feels miserable can actually skew the brain’s chemistry and make one more miserable. I also found a couple of articles online indicating some studies had found something similar, but unfortunately I was not able to get any real sources, so I will let my readers research that for themselves if they wish.

               So since smiling all the time would make for a very uniform facial expression, just as planting all one kind of flower would make a uniform garden, one must analyze the ways in which she desires to display her face.
Questions to ask yourself when mapping your facial garden:
In what situations do I find myself smiling involuntarily? My natural, genuine smile ought to be wholehearted and delightful.
In which situations do I feel I am always forcing myself to smile? Do I frequently engage in such fake smiles?
In which situations do I feel that my facial expression is not up to par, appearing either bored, angry, unpleasant, distasteful, or some other negative quality? Perhaps I am not actively engaging my face in my surroundings and activities.

               Asking these questions will clue a woman in to the thought process behind the action of either smiling or making some other face. And her thoughts are the seeds that grow the flowers of expression.

               So now we begin with the seeds.

               The first seed to plant for a lovely facial expression is an authentic attitude. Being aware of your surroundings, engaged in your current activity, observant of those around you, and attentive to details all increase a woman’s awareness which better clues her brain in to how to hold the face. I often think that many women’s faces fall into a deadpan or even angry look simply because they are busy either mentally engaging in situations not really happening or simply neglecting to focus on their current circumstances, such as greeting someone, driving past lovely scenery, enjoying ice cream at the park, or interacting with their children. Focusing on the present situation is the foundation for the expression one will wear. Generally speaking, it will be either serious or lighthearted, depending on whether or not one is interacting with strangers or trusted acquaintances, work or free time.

               The second seed to plant is a positive attitude. This is not the same as a permanent smile no matter the situation. However, mentally looking for the good in every situation and making the best of everything that comes along will go along way toward brightening a woman’s face and deterring a sad or angry or deadpan look.

               The third seed to plant is an engaged attitude. Similar to being authentic, not only should a woman know her circumstances and be aware of them mentally, but also her face should be responding in kind. She need not gush over a store clerk or smile at every obnoxious child who looks at her sideways. She does not have to smile every time she wants something, such as asking someone for directions, or talking to an establishment’s employees. People who do this often look fake, so unless she legitimately feels like smiling it is best not to paste on a smile. Direct eye contact and feelings of friendliness, calmness, courtesy, and self-confidence will render a woman’s face agreeable and pleasing without her having to put on an obvious smile.

               Here in the South, I notice a lot of faces. About half appear to be tired, washed out, moody, depressed, bored, distant, angry, or sullen. The other half are smiling, many in a manner which seems fake. People smile when they look at each other. They smile when talking to each other. They smile when a misbehaving child plunges into their shopping cart at the grocery store, and they smile when an Army Reserves recruiter writes his personal cell number on the back of his card and shoves it into the face of a female clerk at Walgreen’s while she is stocking the makeup shelves. They smile when people hurt their feelings, insult them, or make inappropriate remarks. It is like a smile epidemic, and it often feels like one has to either smile constantly or else end up looking up like the sullen or angry-faced woman whom no one wants to interact with. But there is plenty of middle ground and room to be pleasant while still displaying one’s true feelings.

               I have been able to successfully cultivate a serious-pleasant face, i.e., I am not going to insult you, but I am also not going to be your best friend. Indeed, there is a middle ground between those two. For example, I will professionally and politely speak to you or answer you, and I will be happy because I have happiness arising from within, not from external circumstances including the person with whom I am interacting, and I will employ proper attitudes and manners toward you which will reflect upon my face. Depending on the situation, and believe me, I’ve been in plenty, those attitudes and behaviors could range from admiration and respect to pity and compassion to gratitude and relief to disagreement and disappointment to wariness and restraint. And that is all okay. A woman’s face can handle all of those epithets without having to resort to looking really angry, or fake-happy. When a woman does not feel that she can smile sincerely in a given situation, a serious-pleasant face is the go-to solution. When going about her business alone, such as walking, driving, or shopping, a woman can maintain her serious-pleasant face by thinking positively about what she is doing. If she sees something that delights her, her lips part slightly. If she sees something cute, she chuckles softly. If she is confused, she squints quizzically. She actively engages her face as it is not only the link between her thoughts and actions but also the indicator of them both. And looking positive and genuine will increase the number of positive, genuine experiences a woman has with others.