Friday, February 05, 2010

Teachable Moments

So I’m standing in line at the gas station waiting my turn to pre-pay for a tank of gas. This took awhile because the old lady in front of me was buying about fifty lottery tickets from ten different games. As I waited I let my mind wander over the checklist of things I must do by the end of the weekend – buy groceries, finish editing my latest vanity novel, polish up a pitch in hope of enticing an editor to publish it – when suddenly my train of thought was derailed by a man saying something to me.

“What? I’m sorry; I didn’t hear you,” I said.

“I said, SMILE! C’mon! Things can’t be that bad!”

Side note: I’m used to men trying to pick me up in public places, and so long as they’re polite about it I always let them down in a gentle, face-saving way; say, if a guy compliments my hat I’ll tell him, “Thank you. My boyfriend bought it for me last Christmas” (even though I actually bought it myself).

But that’s assuming the guy in question is being polite. Anyone with the gall to tell me what facial expression he thinks I should wear in a gas station doesn’t qualify. So I looked him in the eye, waited just long enough for him to get uncomfortable, then told him in my coldest tone of voice: “My father died.”

The man had the decency to look embarrassed, and started sputtering out an apology. I interrupted him to point out the obvious: “In the future, I suggest you avoid walking up to total strangers and telling them they don’t look happy enough to satisfy you.”

The embarrassed man left the store, followed soon after by the lady with the lottery tickets. When I walked up to the cashier, she said she was sorry to hear about my father. I flashed her my biggest and friendliest smile.

“No need for apologies,” I said cheerfully. “It happened many, many years ago, and I’ve long since got over it. But with any luck, next time the guy tries hitting on a woman, he won’t be such a bonehead about it.”

For some reason, the cashier found this very funny.


Blogger Dave-o-ramA said...

For some reason, the cashier found this very funny.

The reason being, that it's hi-fucking-larious.

3:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

...and if the guy was just genuinely being nice, and not hitting on you?

9:49 AM  
Anonymous Cap'n No said...

...and if the guy was just genuinely being nice, and not hitting on you?

In that case, he probably learned that he needs to unlearn what he thinks is nice behavior.

10:30 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

What NoStar said. If he thinks walking up to total strangers who aren't even aware of him and ordering them to smile is "nice" behavior, he desperately needs to learn a few social skills. Perhaps I succeeded in teaching him one.

11:49 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Also, at the risk of belaboring the obvious, let me point out that what I gave him actually IS good advice: do not walk up to total strangers and tell them they don't look happy enough to meet with your approval.

It's too bad a man could reach his 30s or 40s without figuring this out for himself, though.

12:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Odd that what used to be considered friendly behavior, is now considered rude. Must be the generation gap. My parents were born in the 20's and raised me to genuinely care about everyone, strangers included.

You interpret it as an "order" to smile, when it could actually just be a suggestion from someone who is trying to be nice.

Sounds to me like you have a chip on your shoulder and were just looking for a fight. I would not be surprised if you get offended when a man opens a door for you.

1:48 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

No,I've never been offended by a man opening a door for me. I am, however, offended by the apparent assumption that it's acceptable for a man to walk up to a woman he doesn't even know and tell her what facial expression she should or should not wear.

By the way, it is indeed good to "care" about people, so long as you don't mistakenly think "care" is synonymous with "offer unsolicited, unwanted advice."

1:55 PM  
Blogger Windypundit said...

I get this all the time from strangers myself.

I'm trying to understand the logic behind it. They see that I look upset, so rather than asking what's wrong or how they can help, they try to belittle my feelings by saying "Cheer up! It can't be that bad!" when, really, how could they know?

The really annoying part is that they're almost always proceeding from a false read of the situation. My face just naturally relaxes into a kind of scowl. It has nothing to do with my attitude, it's just the genetics that shaped my skull. If I were an actor, I'd probably get lots of "Henchman #3" roles because I look pissed off without trying.

So, first they mistakenly assume that I'm upset or pissed off, then they try to belittle me. As you'd expect, this pisses me off.

9:05 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

The hell of it is, Windy, my default facial expression isn't even a scowl, but merely neutral: not happy, not sad, just there. But even if my default expression DID look annoyed or unhappy, it is, as you said, belittling for total strangers to make comments based on the assumption that whatever emotion I am feeling right now, I shouldn't feel that way.

9:14 AM  
Blogger rhhardin said...

The guy learned that some women are a long day. But he already knew that.

Most women are not great deals, which men are wired to overlook.

6:07 AM  
Blogger Caveman Lawyer said...

Wow, and I thought I was a dick.

4:42 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

You are, Caveman. Despite your continued existence, however, the world today is a slightly less dickish place than it was before, because there's at least one less man in it who thinks walking up to an unknown woman and bellowing "SMILE! WHATCHA LOOKIN SO SAD FOR?" is an appropriate ice-breaker.

3:32 PM  
Anonymous Ken said...

The "hey, you should smile" bit is so spectacularly condescending and intrusive that it deserves far worse than this guy got.

8:36 PM  
Anonymous Martin said...

I can assure you that this is not just a male/female thing. I get it too, and I find it just as irritating. Mind your business, I'll wear any damn facial expression I want!

5:04 AM  

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