charankanya on April 9th, 2009

I drop my kids off at school each morning.  I drop them to the gate and walk back to my car.  I see the same parents every morning who come to drop off their children.  When I make eye-contact, I smile at them….and no one smiles back.  In fact, most hastily avert their gaze, or look at me as though I must be an alien.  I don’t get it.  Can anybody explain this to me?  These are parents whose children go to the same school.  I see them almost everyday.  Yet no one smiles.

Other places where people behave as complete strangers – in elevators.  Well dressed folks….obviously either live in the same building, or are visiting a neighbour.  I just don’t get it. My usual grin, is now replaced by a much smaller smile.  I’m afraid, I’m adjusting far too well to my new home….I’m going to become just  like the people here and look suspiciously at any person who flashes me a smile.

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17 Responses to “No One Smiles”

  1. JefHuman Apathy or just a Social Malaiseferin Sequeira
    May 15th, 2009 at 10:32 pm

    Hi Charankanya,
    At the outset, I wish to applaud you for being brave in expressing your feelings/sentiments. The purpose of replying to this article is to request you to plleeaassee…Reserve Your Smile For Me…Im coming to Pune soon, after living overseas for 18 years not just in one country but in several on account of my husbands professional life.
    So I know your pain cos I have gone through the same.
    However I feel encouraged that there is another of my kind on this planet who has been at the receiving end of…what should I call it… Human Apathy or plain Social Malaise.
    Im coming to Pune end of this month to sort out accommodation and find a new home…Ill be more than happy to meet with you just to smile, share a cuppa, a walk and maybe even a chat. You have my personal email id please feel free to send me an email……I love a Human world.
    Our Mahatma Gandhi said You Be The Change You Want To See In The World.
    Hoping to hear from you soon.

  2. 🙂

    A warm welcome to Pune. Hope your move is smooth.
    Thanks for your lovely comment…you made my day!

    With a big smile to you,

  3. I definitely laughed out loud at your ‘NO One Smiles’and the corresponding thread! Absolutely the same experiences. After my older kids school bus leaves I walk down our society lane with my 13 month old who is so excited to see people. She stops and says HI! and the people walk off….and she turns around gesturing with her hand and says…’all gone’!!! The smiles we get are also so reluctant as if they cost a fortune.

    I joined the gym, have been there for over a week now, same face – no smiles of acknowledgment even. I say HI and they turn around…its really really funny!

    The other day I was met with an instant smile and an uncanny feeling and the lady stopped to ask me – are u new , have u moved back from outside the country? and I was so amused. Because she had too…and maybe it was the smile issue again. I shall ask her that for sure once we get a little more acquainted.

    A friend of mine tried to pacify me saying the recent HC ruling might be to blame!! LOL.

  4. Hi Priya,
    I smiled at someone on the elevator today. After a few moments of hesitation, she at least asked “do I know you?”. I replied “no” and gave her another smile. Even though she did smile back, I’m sure I saw a very confused look on her face.

    Hah…maybe we should start a smile revolution. What say?? 🙂


  5. I have lived in US for a while and returned to India few years back. After my return to India I have made frequent trips to US.

    I think that there is a cultural difference and nothing more. The minute I land in US I usually start saying Hi and smile (whether I know people or not) just like I drive on the other side. When I am in India I do try to introduce myself and restrain from smiling at one and all. (Please do not smile in France. French do not like it either).

    If you remember your Indian days you will probably remember that you would not smile at strangers. Thats the way we are brought up. But US is different. I do not think Indians are trying to be rude. They are not used to it and they hesitate to react to your smile.

  6. I have lived in the US for about 8 years and am all set to return to India. I have noticed in the past whilst visiting India that my smile or nod would mostly be returned with cold stares :). However, last year I had a friend who came over from France to the US. He was upset to see the people here smile and nod at him – thought it was extremely artificial :).

  7. Well! May be you find this more in big cities like Pune and Bombay a lot! (Again this is my opinion I may be wrong also). I live in Nashik. Normally here I have seen people very friendly and smiling (suprised?). Again you have every type of people every where but I see people here would like to know each other though in my case I am not the extrovert and kind of ‘Start from the day one’.

    All in all, I really like your point, Atleast smile! It doesn’t cost anything.

  8. You are assuming smiling at strangers is normal. Its not. Its a weird thing invented by people who live in countries where there is too much land and very few human beings. The smile is one of relief that you are not alone on plant earth.

    In india we have 10 people under one roof on average. Smiling is a way of showing affection and friendship to those whom you genuinely feel it – not a meaningless automatic reflex.

  9. @dovin

    Why do you assume that smiling at a stranger is meaningless or fake? Is affection for strangers, fellow human beings as you put it, impossible? If smiling were just a meaningless reflex to Americans, would it be so disconcerting to them when it is not returned?

    I think a comparable US equivalent of this situation would be someone doling out hugs to everyone in the elevator and I can understand how one would find that odd and hesitate to return the hug. But I would not assume that person’s hug was fake and not a real expression of affection. The fact that culture’s have different expectations about when and what amount of affection to show does not diminish their sincerity.

  10. I was just trying to point out that what happens in US is not necessarily the yardstick by which other cultures should be measured. Thus an indian can land in US and find (like I did initially) it intimidating that every one would smile and say ‘how are you’ though they had no real interest in you or knew you at all. Took me months to practice an automatic ‘I’m fine thank you, how are you’ back.

    So the question, why does no one smile has no meaning, because the answer simply is this is not US. Just like, why does everyone drive on the left side of the road.

  11. This is funny – especially because you’re genuinely troubled by this. 🙂

    I think the don’t-smile-at-people-you-don’t-know rule comes inbuilt within every Indian. There are just Far too many people around and it’s logistically difficult to do this.

    Funny/Useful Fact: IF you’re at a bar and want to start talking to a girl you’ve Never met before, you just need to smile a smile that says I’m-smiling-at-you-because-I-already-know-you-Why-else-would-I-smile, it Works! She’ll assume she knows you and can’t really place you, without you having to say anything!

  12. Hey all Indians in US do the same towards every other Indian – they don’t smile or say ‘hi ‘ : )

  13. Hello,

    I’m originally from Belgium and live in Newe Jersey US . We will be moving to Pune in the summer.
    About the smile. I always smiled at people and in Belgium they always would look at me like I was from another planet.
    In the us it’s totally different and they love a smile.
    If I smile at somebody it’s my way of saying hello without words and to give the other person a good feeling.
    I will smile wherever I am because that’s me. If I don’t get a smile back , that’s ok . At least I know that I respected the person crossing my path.

    Have a great day

  14. Hi Charankanya,
    Another fantastic post. I am spending some time on your blog today.

    This begs the question does smile equate friendliness (even as some put it when it’s fake)?

    I have some examples of this. I am an American who lived in India before.

    When I lived in Chennai for two years, people were always asking me “Why so dull?” I never smiled or only smiled back then when I was truly happy.

    Now my life has changed, I feel happier from within. When we moved back to India 8 weeks ago we were staying in a hotel for a month. The watchman was always smiling and friendly to me though he couldn’t speak English and I couldn’t speak Malayalam. When we left the hotel, I had my husband tell him that I appreciated his friendliness and helpfulness and especially that he smiled because it made me feel at ease. Whether it’s good for a woman to say this to a man is of no consequence and of course my husband translated on my behalf. The watchman was happy and said “Your wife is very friendly and she smiles while everyone else around here looks grumpy/ miserable. It’s a nice change.” He also said I had a ‘sophisticated walk’. It’s really interesting cause in America I have a normal walk. I don’t know what makes it look sophisticated here:).

  15. I recently moved to India after 6 years in the US. I have started working for an IT company and I wait in the bus stop where the office bus comes everyday. Many women are waiting for the bus. No one smiles. No one says Hi. They know you are new. They dont bother to make you feel welcome. Heck! They dont even look up. I hop on to the bus and every person has reserved the seat next to her for a friend. 🙂 I walk up to the end of the bus and I know everyone is looking at me…no one smiles. No one even “acknowledges”. I have been taking the bus for more than a week now. Nothing has changed.

    So today I went and said Hi to another lady. She looked up from her phone, mumbled something and went back to texting.

    Luckily I have a book to read for the 45 minute drive.

    It only gets funny in the end.

  16. Starlight: Hang in there. Put your book away for some time, and soon someone will start talking to you. Trust me…it does get better. 🙂


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