Jul 15, 2011

It's Like Magic

I've been troubled by something for quite some time now.   It's not my imagination either.  I'm not perceived by others to be very friendly. It's true.  Family, friends, co-workers and strangers have all told me so.  But nothing could be further from the truth.  I'm very friendly once you get to know me. I'm generally optimistic, fun loving and generous (a little cynical and sarcastic too, but in a funny way).  Apparently, I send out the exact opposite signals.  It's not that I don't like people.  Well, actually, I really don't like most people but find them tolerable.  Spending time with dullards is the price you pay to meet the really interesting, funny and smart people.

There are a few reasons I scare people off.  My stature and heritage, very tall and a stern German countenance. It's intimidating.  I have a tendency to place both fists on my hips, legs spread far apart, body language for "Yeah? You got something to say?"   Another thing working against me is I'm an introvert.  I will never be the life of the party.  Unless it's a very small party with people I know really well.  Oh and my tendency to speak bluntly can put people off too.  Once I work up the courage to confront something I don't bother sweetening things up before they come out of my mouth.  Time-waster.

I've always just accepted this about myself but a few comments recently had me wondering if I should and could change my image.  When comparing me to my sister recently my uncle said "Well,  everybody knows your sister has always been the friendly one."  Ouch.  Then a store clerk asked me recently if I was OK.  I answered that I was and asked why she thought I wasn't.  "The scowl on your face." was her answer.

Wow.  Scowl?  Really? I decided I needed to do something about this.  As much as it pained me to think of myself walking around looking like a simpleton I vowed to start smiling at people.   I'd always heard smiles bring out the best in people.  That smiles connect people.  When you smile at someone they smile back.  It's also one of the universal, innate expressions of emotion.  We are born to smile, we don't learn it.

My former method of connecting with strangers was to make some sort of witty comment about whatever circumstances we found ourselves thrust into together.  Nine times out of ten I would get a sideways puzzled glance and a cold shoulder.    Definitely not working for me.

At first I treated this smiling thing as an experiment.  Would walking around with a forced smile plastered onto my face really make a difference? I am happy to report that it IS working.  People are nice when you smile at them. Plus, smiling is becoming more natural for me, less forced. I'm not even thinking about it, just doing it.

This morning as the McDonald's lady handed me my coffee she said "It's so nice to see that big smile of yours.  Have a wonderful day."  That made my smile even wider. Two weeks of smiling and the world is already acknowledging my newfound friendliness.


  1. I am lucky in that mostly I smile easily - doesn't mean I feel any happier its sort of how my face rests - but as I get older my mouth has a more down turned look - called gravity. Once I asked my mum what was wrong as she looked unhappy - she said (and mum was vary gentle so this took me aback) "I am not unhappy. This is my face now!"

    Sounds like you have a gift that the uncle of yours doesn't seem to have - you reflect on your actions. I am fed up with people who tell me what I should be doing, thinking they know my reality - Maybe you could reply next time he is so ill mannered - with some comment "Its hard to be friendly with people with bad manners like yours!" Maybe he then can reflect on the things he says and how they affect people.

    Nice to smile and it can make a difference as you have seen but please not those toothy grimaces some people force their faces into - I always feel they are about to bite me.

    The world is big enough and old enough to allow each of us to be as we are without being forced to pretend. I also talk with hands on hips - whats wrong with that. i have trouble crossing my arms as i am big bosomed and short armed I think - so hands on hips works for me.

  2. I so know what you mean! I can't tell you how many times people have asked me what's wrong and I'm wondering why they're thinking that. I attribute it to the furrow lines between my brows from wearing glasses for so long. I even contemplated botox.

    Could be that it's an eldest German daughter thing. Look at Tante Inge, she comes off as stern until you get to know her.

    Maybe I'll try the smile technique. Can't hurt.

  3. One nice thing about blog friends is that body language and facial expressions don't interfere with the words. I always thought you were very friendly. I always think I see a smile when I read your words.

  4. So much of you reminds me of me, believe it or not. It's great so see you ponder on all this.

  5. MC - I knew you would say something like that. I can always count on your pragmatism and tell-it-like-it-is spirit. You really do come to mind in my day to day to life. What would Therese say????? Probably ah screw em.... do what you do.

    Scarlett - All I know is that of all the cousins you were the one I wanted to piss off the least.... scary. But I only remember doing it once.

    Mom - I think most of my blog friends would be shocked at how quiet I am if they met me in real life.

    Foxy - Maybe you should throw a random smile Emily's way once in awhile.... throw her off her game a bit ;-)

  6. What a fantastic story and experiment! I'm genuinely thrilled by your discovery.

    I really agree with MC - it's too bad that others decide so much about us that's so often inaccurate (and in the last few decades, it also seems to be driven by laziness. Really, people can't imagine more?) Frankly, the flip side of your story is that plenty of sweetie-pie people are insincere and unreliable and just waiting to be passive aggressive.

    Anyway, that's just an aside. Ultimately, what matters is that you - that ALL of us - create the best circumstances to be yourself in the world. (I guess that reads like blah-blah-blah. :\) As long as my smile is genuine, as long as I really mean to be interested in other people, I feel confident. THAT way, when someone DOES take the route of tossing out a cheap criticism, I can relax and just know they're seeing things through their filter.

  7. Booda - My smiling experiment was really about opening doors. Not about not liking who I am. It takes all sorts of people to make the world an interesting place. Including stern Germans. But I felt like I was missing the opportunity to connect with people. You know what I mean? We all walk around in our own little world pretty much tuning out the people we come across. Smiles make it hard for people to ignore you, one way or the other.

  8. Oh, I didn't mean to imply that your Smiling Campaign was anything other than exactly what you said it was.

    I'm afraid I had multiple things going on in my head when I commented. One in particular (by way of explanation) was someone who interpreted my every look - including smiles - and, invariably, gave it the most mean meaning she could.

    So, I suppose that, based on my own experience, I was just saying for MYSELF that opening doors is wonderful, but closing them is not such a bad trick to keep on hand. :)

  9. Booda - I knew what you meant. Just expanding and explaining my post.

  10. Good for you, Christine! :)

    You sure come across as friendly in the blog world - if that helps at all. :)