The obligatory courtesy smile

Humans are such funny creatures. We have all these social niceties and some of the “rules” in place are rather odd.

Something I wish didn’t need to exist is that weird smile – sometimes an accompanying nod – that you give to people (namely, acquaintances or office mates) where you flatten your lips and smile tightly as you pass each other by. It looks like this:

Thanks to Kevin for his gracious demonstration.

Humorous to look at it, especially out of context, but also awkward and kind of annoying. It’s like the only way you can acknowledge someone’s presence and also let that person know, “I don’t want to stop and chat so I’ll make this weird face.” It doesn’t matter how well you know someone, if you are passing by that person and you don’t want or have time to talk, you will make one of these grimaces. I suppose it’s better than in olden times when ladies and gents would bow, curtsy or tip hats to each other, no matter the time, no matter how hurried they were. Kind of quaint, if you think about it.

Some anti-socials are really adept at avoiding eye contact and stampeding right by you, social niceties and familiarity be damned. I have worked with several of these types and it’s always kind of fun to take the initiative to chirp out, “Good morning!” or some other common greeting, forcing that person to either be a dick and not reply, or gruffly respond. It’s the little things. I feel like if I have to participate in this ritual, everyone else should, too.

There really isn’t much more to this fluff piece than that. Just an observation, something I thought I could share with you fine readers. If you can think of other social rituals we participate in, by all means, please share! Enjoy your day/evening – hopefully socially awkward free.


  1. How about the little “wave” that you give along with the nod as you pass by someone. Just a little friendly gesture…

  2. Haha, yes, it almost looks like a beauty pageant winner’s wave!

    • Or when you go to the drive thru and the person asks you, “How are you today?” and you know that they dont really care or have time to chat so you just automaticlly say “Good” and get on with your order. But just for fun its even better to say,”Well actually my day is going terrible! And I have no friends! Then unload all of your fake problems on them. Its like why do we ask the question if we really dont want to know the answer!

      • Since I’m in customer service, my automatic response, even if I’m in the drive-thru to order food, is “doing well, how are you?” … and then I chuckle to myself when they stammer out a response, because they weren’t expecting to be asked anything back.

  3. I hate the superficial “how’s it going?” or “hey, how are you?” as the person walks past you, not even looking at you once they say it, or waiting to hear your response. And then, even if they do stick around to hear it, are you going to tell them if you’re having a shitty day? Nope, it’s a nice polite “good,” or “ok,” or at worst “eh, kind of tired.”

    • LOL MegP I totally agree. And you know what’s more hilarious, seeing their faces when you give an unexpected response. Instead of asking questions that you really don’t want to know the answer to, why not say something general like “lovely weather we are having”.

    • Oh trust me I know a few individuals that don’t stop at the “Good” or “Okay.” I was just talking with someone about this phenomenon of people telling you not only how they’re doing but WHAT they’re doing (and the next 5 things they plan to do). I guess I’m one of those people that just ask out of nicety and it throws me when I end up listening to a 15 minute diatribe I hadn’t realized I’d asked for. lol. Serves me right. Next time I’ll just throw one of these awkward smiles. :-]

      • Haha, yes, this is the opposite extreme, when someone takes it literally and too far!

      • Christen, I am SO on the same page. I would go on, but I am too courteous!

      • Haha, but I love your long replies, Regina!

      • Oh, I aboslutely hate that. When I ask how someone is doing, it is the scripted opening to a conversation about another topic. I don’t actually want to know. I want to tell you what I need to tell you, slam a big pile of work on the table and get back to the coffee languishing on my desk.
        Politeness is supposed to promote efficiency, not destroy it.


      • Nonsense talk. lol.

      • This is my problem, too. -_- It especially happens when I’m checking out at a store and casually ask the cashier, “So how’s it going?” Worst. Idea. Ever.
        Don’t get me wrong, I worked retail/food service for years, so I have extreme sympathy. Still, the heck if I’d confide my hardships in customers whose own stresses are probably equivalent, albeit different. Sadly, though, I really do care. So once they start going, I’m invested in their traumas and remain trapped until they verbally release me or get called away.

    • Dude seriously, that’s something I rant about all the time. Someone can ask you how you are, but they don’t really want to know the answer, they just think they’re being polite. I think they’re just being rude. However, if you tell them your day is terrible then they feel obligated to stop and talk to you, and later they will tell others that you were being rude. Hellloooo?

      • Hahaha I never thought of it that way – you make a good point. Our social “rules,” such as they are, are in a purgatory state.

      • I have to agree here. I don’t mean to be a pessimist, but if you don’t care how someone is, don’t ask. I know it’s a catch-22, if you don’t ask you’re considered rude, but if you do ask and you don’t get the answer you want, you’re considered rude, but sometimes, you’ve caught someone at just the right moment and they need to vent and they’re just happy someone *asked*.

    • I simply tell the superficially interested ‘Not worth a shit’. If they balk I further tell them ‘I’m old, fat ugly and stupid how would you be’. Eff ’em.

    • I totally agree on MegP’s comment!

    • I think maybe someone should make a “Tell someone all your problems when they ask ‘How are you?’ day.” on facebook. That would catch on.

    • Totally! If you are honest and reply with a real answer to “hey, how are you,” then you’re looked at weird or you’re deemed as one of those awkward people who tell entirely way too much personal info. You just can’t win for losing these days.

    • Mariajose says:

      That happens to me all the time. At 8:30am on my way from the main entrance to the hospital (where I work) to my office within the hospital goes like this:
      Me: Good morning
      Other Person: Good morning, how are you
      Me: Good and yourself
      Other Person: (so far away I don’t even think they heard me)

  4. No kidding, Meg! Nobody actually cares in those passing situations. I’m with you.

  5. The big question is this. Is it more polite to give the obligatory smile and nod or to just ignore the person? Ignoring the person altogether is a little rude. However, it is just as rude to be totally fake and act as if you care. Anyone have a butler that I can borrow to run my “mini-errands” at work?

    • Oh it’s totally rude not to do anything; but it’s still funny to me that we have to acknowledge one another and we do it with these funny faces. I don’t like to act fake or like fake people so if given my druthers, I’ll stick with my courtesy smiles.

    • Optimus the Ninja says:

      I once ignored someone and they told people I was pretending they don’t exist because I have a crush on them.

  6. good post keep posting frnd thanks 4 sharing

  7. The funny thing is, I had JUST made this same look to a woman passing by my office before reading this. TOO BIZARRE!

    Thanks for making me aware of how silly it must appear. Why do we do this, anyhow?

  8. I try to remember that often times a genuine smile is just what a person is needing that day… so I smile. And if they stop me to chat, I’ll stop. I don’t appreciate somebody giving me that face… and on a bad day, when I need the smile, I’d probably consider throwing cow crap in their face. But today’s a good day. Hope yours is too.

    • breedermama says:

      I could see how someone wouldn’t appreciate the face but it’s meaning is a nice one, it says “I see you, I wish I could talk but I don’t have the time”. I like seeing smiles and chatting on my bad days but I don’t “need” them – you can’t expect other people to read your mind and avoid making -as has been exemplified- a socially acceptable expression to convey that they like you but don’t have time to spare.

      I wish I always had time to stop and chat with someone who wants to, unfortunately I don’t have time for everyone who wants to chat or I wouldn’t get anything done because I would be having conversations left and right. I generally smile and say “Hi” or “Hey” and keep on trucking, I’m not a fan of the face but it doesn’t make me angry if other people make it.

      • Oh, and I certainly did not mean to say I am angry or upset about it if someone gives it to me. It’s just happened so many times (where I’ve done it, too!) that the idea for the post occurred. I was trying to step outside myself to question why we do these things. People are so intricate and quirky πŸ™‚

      • That’s true; I think I am just in a place where I have the time to make conversation with people. I like to smile and say hello, and if I am really busy, I will tell people so. I don’t expect them to read my tight-lipped smile and get the hint.

  9. I work in a large office with a small staff and face this scenario often. We’re only about nine people spread about a hangar-like space. So, when we do see each other, there’s that awkward moment where we’re too far apart to really talk or make an exchange of any sort, yet we know we’ve seen each other and this elicits a response of some sort. (PLUS, you do need to make some sort of acknowledgement to assure that you’re not about to lower your eyes and then find yourself crashing right into one another!)

    I thought Jerry Seinfeld said it best when he suggested we stop all the small talk and the chipper “Morning!” “How are ya?” “How’s the weekend?” nonsense with a simple, non-enthusiastic, mutual muttering of “Acknowledged” as we pass one another in the hall or on the way to the breakroom. It would certainly be a relief for those of us who are less often inclined to engage in deep, meaningful conversation with people we barely know yet see frequently.

    • I love the “Acknowledged” idea, Jason! My office is small, also, though when I worked in a large corporation, it existed lots there, too. It’s omnipresent!

  10. Haha I so know what smile you’re talking about, and I make fun of it often too! I usually give that smile for a laugh, since I know how ugly and weird I look with ‘flattened lips and a tight smile’! Haha!

  11. Haha!! This post is hilarious and so true!! I make that face occasionally, but I’m also trying to speak up a little more now. No more awkward, tight-lipped, eye-brows raised, half-smile for me!

  12. How fun–and totally true! That smile is way, way weird!

  13. So funny! My roommate flashed me her ‘Obligatory Smile’ last night and I could not get over the uncanny resemblance to The Joker.

  14. You made my day with this post! I call those smiles social nervous tic – sometimes they do look like that. The rest of the face is totally frozen, just lips get that involuntary (definitely seems like that) movement…Frustrating and funny at the same time!
    The small talk Americans do in passing is the constant source of perplexity for foreigners. I often heard comments from even slightly offended ones, who did not understand why Americans ask questions and never stop and listen to the answer πŸ™‚

    • I have gotten multiple responses saying that this is an American thing! When I moved back to the Midwest from NYC I was astounded at how many people were determined to make eye contact and say hello. Talk about foreign.

  15. The worst is when I am walking around the lake by my house. The first time I pass someone walking in the opposite direction we’ll do the weird awkward nod and mumble “good morning” to each other. We don’t know one another – it’s just good “early morning walker” manners. The second time we pass it’s just an awkward nod. If we happen to pass a third time there is a deliberate avoidance of eye contact – a shoelace to be checked, a bird flying by, changing the song on your iPod. Love the picture!

    • Thanks, Jennifer! My boyfriend was the model – that’s his REAL face that he makes when he’s like, “I don’t know what to do or say right now.” I captured that back in 2010 and brought it out just for this post. He’s a little sheepish that he’s plastered on today hahhaha.

  16. I always wondered if people like you were forcing an interaction early in the morning when I just want to walk by minding my own business. πŸ™‚

  17. Haha I also think that the nod and smile says: I want to acknowledge I’ve seen you and seem friendly so when the situation arises that I actually HAVE to talk to you, I’m still in your good books. πŸ˜€

  18. I just hate that obligatory smile..its all people ever give nowdays

  19. Funny! We do things we don’t realize are awkward until someone points them out.

  20. So true. WHAT I HATE IS when two people look at each other in a knowing way when you’re talking to them… But that’s an entirely differnet topic. Maybe a post on that someday. πŸ˜€

    Nice post πŸ˜€

  21. This is completely true – well observed. I must admit though, I am the worst for doing that smile and I haven’t even noticed until now. I will try my upmost efforts to stop and find something a little less pretentious to do haha
    Great post, and congratulations on being Freshly Pressed

  22. girlonthecontrary says:

    Are you saying tipping my hat is antiquated? Because that might explain the strange reactions of my co-workers.

  23. Wow. Does that look familiar in supermarkets.

  24. It’s one of those weird things that just look really funny to me. I often smirk inside when I see people making the funny face and wave back.

  25. Ha, that’s also the you just tripped and I’m not laughing at you smile. Great post.

  26. katiefoutz says:

    I totally make this face. LOL!

  27. Great post! That little lift of the chin? My 16-year-old calls that the ‘sup nod.

    I too, get perverse satisfaction in killing someone with kindness by drawing them into my world by making a nice comment about their clothes, or whatever. It’s that moment of indecision that crosses their face before they respond that I live for!

  28. Lol this is great! I’ve never thought of these awkward yet obligatory smiles, but now that I do, I realize I give them numerous times a day. Usually they’re accompanied by some sort of eyes widening or eyebrow gesture as well (no idea why). Sometimes I think I’d just rather be rude and not say a word to the person I highly dislike when I pass him or her. Congrats on being FP’d!

    • Ohhh yeah, I used to have an inside joke with a friend about the extra wide eyes and eyebrow lifting that looks so fake hahaha.

      Thanks for the congrats and for coming by to comment!

  29. It’s mostly Americans, from my experience foreigners will either be more exuberant, or not acknowledge you at all.

  30. I work in an office and I HATE making that face, yet find myself doing it every day! Thanks for adding humor. Now every time I do it I’ll laugh to myself!

    • I just chuckled to myself because I was thinking of how I could really exaggerate it and make it look all grotesque. Then I’d pass the person cackling and they’d think I was a total loon.

  31. i suppose if we didn’t make this weird face, we would just be rude. but seems so fake and forced to do so.

  32. how about when you go to wave at someone, they don’t see you and some random person is waving back all confused.. (this has happened to me one to many times) walking away looking like the crazy girl waving to strangers lol

  33. Hahahaha… Of course, I reserve my obligatory courtesy smiles for people I actually would love to chat with but am simply too awkward to approach. So for me, it is quite a stretch. Otherwise I just do the anti-social thing. Don’t we get a free pass from social niceties by being in NYC?

    Either way, now that you’ve highlighted how hilariously ridiculous it is, I’m officially making an effort to phase it out!

    • I think New Yorkers DO get a pass, Nick! I don’t remember a single time I walked around NYC exchanging smiles with people. Perhaps a non-smile plus a nod is the best way to acknowledge someone, if you have to out of courtesy. Let me know how phasing it out goes!

  34. Too true. I do this all the time, even when I’m by myself and no one’s watching. The flat-lipped “frog look.” I also wish that for once, when someone asks you “How are you?” that person we could respond in absolute honesty. Example:

    Boss: Hey! How are you?
    Me: Not so good boss-e-o. Ate something weird last night and had explosive diahrea this morning. All the toilet paper had run out so….you can imagine. Almost hit an old lady and a couple kids while driving to work…might’ve given them the bird. Stupid idiots. Just got a kinky text from the hubby which is the only reason why I’m smiling now. I’m not even in the mood to work today. Work kinda stinks…everyone here agrees that you can be a better boss. How are you? How are Trish and the kids? *obligatory courtesy smile*

    • So far, you have won the award for Best Comment to this post! I just cracked up at your scenario and for *whatever* reason, I wasn’t expecting the “obligatory courtesy smile” at the end. Bravo! Can’t wait to check out your blog.

  35. thebigbookofdating says:

    LOL, great post! Ah, so true…

  36. Alan King says:

    An awkward social ritual I’m forced to engage in is the sidewalk game of chicken, where two people are walking on the sidewalk, and one of the two walkers is inconsiderate enough to take up the whole sidewalk. Despite seeing the other guy coming, the sidewalk hog keeps on going, as if daring the other guy to say something about being forced off the sidewalk into the grass.

    What makes it odd is that the sidewalk hogs are usually skinny small guys trying to assert themselves. At 6-foot-2 and 257lbs. I know the damage I could do to a sidewalk hog. But it’s the wise person who, despite that advantage, avoids conflict. But taking the high road, so to speak, isn’t always easy. Sometimes I give in to the game of chicken, not making eye contact and pretending not to hear the loud scream and curses from a sidewalk hog who’s forced into a thorny hedge.

    I enjoyed your post. Thanks for this.

    • Alan, I have been there. I am not tall and not completely rotund but I have moved out of the way of people not that much bigger than I am because s/he refuses to move, even when they see me coming. Once, a friend of mine and I were walking together down the street and a guy barked at my friend to MOVE! because she was on the left side and he was trying to pass. This idea of “Sidewalk Chicken” is an intriguing one – perhaps you could expound on it on your blog?

      Thanks for stopping by to read and reply!

      • Alan King says:

        I’ve been thinking about it. I could make it a post on a awkward social rituals (see what the experts have written on it and weave it between anecdotes, and, of course, credit your post for the inspiration).

        I’m definitely doing that, now. Thanks!

      • You’re welcome!! I’m sure it will be smashing πŸ™‚

  37. Anonymous says:

    I love it when people smile before I do. Even a courtesy or ‘fake’ one as it’s called. If they look me in the eyes then I will smile deeper and say hello. Sometimes it stirs a deeper smile from them, so it’s always worth it.

    I’m not a social person. I rather like being alone and away from big social scenes. However, when I’m around town for a purchase or a looksee I’ll definitely bother anyone I can for as many smiles as possible.

    The city can look so dim and drab some days but every smile puts a twinkle in the eyes – which makes the city shine from within.


    • So eloquently put! I am an introvert and can be very shy in public so I am always startled when someone says hello and smiles at me. But like you, I will smile back and I am cheered by it (when it is genuine). This is random but yesterday, for the first time since I can recall, a man saw me coming up to the door of my office building just after he had entered, and he didn’t hold the door open. It wasn’t like he would have had to wait longer than three seconds. Most men – or people – will hold a door for someone so it doesn’t close in the other person’s face. I was a little appalled. Where are the manners?

  38. Found your post on Freshly Pressed and am glad I did…you’ve highlighted an important social oddity that we see/commit everyday (just saw it two minutes ago, actually).

    I wonder how this operates in other cultures — do they have a similar “awkward acknowledge”? Do they not even bother? We should get the UN together and have a talk about this. πŸ˜‰

    • From what I understand, this is an American thing! I studied abroad in Paris and people do NOT go around smiling at will! Eye contact is also avoided.

  39. Matthew says:

    Probably my favorite social acknowledgement.. the nod.

  40. muirnin says:

    I’m in the middle of Richard Dawkins’ “The Selfish Gene” right now, and now when reading posts like this, all I can think is how the courtesy smile is somehow deeply rooted in our genetic gregarious predisposition as human beings. It’s in the best interest of our genes to get along, avoid conflict and not fight with each other if we don’t have to. It’s amazing, really! I love how Dawkins puts it: “Genes are the primary policy makers; brains are the executives.”

    • Fascinating! I might have to check out the book (perhaps the synopsis, if not the whole book haha) just because the title draws you in. I like this idea of “it’s in our best interest.” Would explain a lot!

  41. wonderfully written post! This face can also mean ” I have to be nice to you because you are my boss but I think you are one of the dumbest persons out there!” haha In Germany you say at least “Hello” before you go your own way! Which I consider way more personal…

  42. Haha, I’ll keep you updated. It will be a challenge! And as a brand new blogger (check mine out if you get a chance… I’m shameless), I look forward to reading more of your posts!

  43. Eva McCane says:

    lol! Love this! if somebody lets me into traffic, i give them a hand raise…not a wave, not a smile (cause they couldn’t see it anyway)…just a nice little hand raise.

  44. Funny stuff! I have a few versions of that. The eyebrows say a lot about how I feel about you.

  45. I havhe had great experiences in this area. It is my belief that angels actually walk our earth. There have been too many times that a complete stranger has smiled at me in such a way, that I feel very loved and part of something wonderful in this coming life. Truly our Lord loves each and every one of us, we just have to give Him a chance in our lives to enter our lives.

  46. Haha! This is fantastic – wonderful to see someone else acknowledging the strange fact that we all do this. A smile from a stranger is wonderful, and I don’t mind it at all – but what is it about flashing a quick smile that makes us flatten our lips across our faces? We must all look pretty awkward. Ha!

  47. The Dress Lover says:

    Oh i hate it! I call it the “warm smile”. Im guilty of doing it but why do some people think its needed every time you pass. I mean c’mon isnt once enough?!

  48. I always mean to give a warmer smile than the grimace I usually do but old habits are hard to get rid of.

    That Kevin fella is cute with that little flat smile.

    • Hahahaha thank you Laura!! You’re too kind! I am cracking up because I LOVE this flat smile of Kevin’s. I’ve always called it his “Kevin smile.” I’m glad someone else finds it cute, too πŸ™‚ I’m shy so I always end up grimacing to people, as well.

  49. thoughtfactory says:

    I wonder what could be the (smilish) smiley for that expression — 😐 and :-} probably come close to it πŸ™‚

  50. I’ve recently noticed another socially awkward but expected gesture: the “have a good day” we all receive from some stranger or acquaintance providing a service (ringing up items at the checkout, completing a transaction at the bank, etc.). Often times the clerk does not even look at you while wishing you a good rest of the day, nor do they say it with much exuberance, making the statement feel dry and not at all genuine. This then leaves the customer feeling obligated to respond, although they may feel awkward doing so seeing as the message was not delivered with much intent on any further conversation, even a reply. Chances are, the employee is onto the next thing/customer, and has already ended their attachment with you and your needs.
    MY QUESTION: What’s the point? If you can’t even act like you truly wish the person a good day, doesn’t that kind of counteract saying it with an indifferent air?
    To sum up: the standard “have a good day” goodbye should not be uttered if it is merely to comply with social expectations because it often leads to awkward/disheartened interactions, just like the lame courtesy smile.

    • I try to be patient with those in retail and customer service. I feel for them. I worked in retail for two years and loathed it at the end. I hated being fake and having to smile through being treated like crap. HOWEVER – I do not like it when sales clerks talk over you to another clerk and act as if you aren’t there. It is the epitome of rude in my estimation. And I agree – don’t say something if you don’t mean it. I’d rather not have you say it at all!

    • My true gripe is when I am asked by some rep over at customer support “how is your day?”….I am calling because you idiots messed up my bank account or something with my do you expect me to answer you? I feel forced to have to respond nicely and say ok, But later go on and curse that same person out for not wanting to help me resolve my problem which they get paid to do. urgggggggg

      • I don’t like when a sales person calls ME and the first thing they ask is, “Hi, how are you today?” I really want to say, “Fine. Busy. Impatient. What do you want?” but I don’t. Then I have to sit through some spiel.

  51. For the record, some of those “anti-socials” that avoid eye-contact are in fact people with poor self-confidence, not anti-socials.

    The difference is intent; an anti-social person avoids the eye-contact because they want to avoid you, a person with confidence issues is avoiding eye-contact because they’re scared ****less. Usually they would honestly love to even be able to manage this simple weird smile, but the concept is scary.

    I’m mostly recovered, though I relapse from time to time, but some people never quite get the hang of it. Social customs are hard sometimes :p

    • Oh dear. I didn’t mean to offend with that comment. I am NOT an extrovert! That is why I have a blog, where I can spout off whatever I want that I would normally never say to another person (except Kevin, in the privacy of our home). I totally agree that the intent is what is important, actually. I don’t mean to be rude or make fun – I know that not everyone comes with the ability to be social, even on a cursory level. I have always have difficulties going to parties and ‘fitting in.’ I have my good days and bad days, as well. Thanks for the gentle rebuke!

    • criassk thanks for making that distinction….

  52. I always say to my clients “Smile and you’ll believe it.” A little bit of forced niceties here and there will uplift the mood of everything and eventually create authenticity. Grim does not make the economy rock.

  53. elizabethmatter says:

    I HATE the courtesy smile! If I don’t see someone very often I quote like to stop and say hi, but if I’ve already walked past that person twice that day? Sometimes I pretend to be reading a text or looking for something in my bag when I see them coming.

  54. I LOVE THIS SO MUCH! Seriously it makes me laugh when I think of all the stupid social norms people put themselves through. Then when you try and break the norm and be a little more polite everyone thinks your crazy! haha

  55. As a usable form of ‘acknowledged’, we just say, ‘hey.’
    That’s all, in passing: ‘hey.’ …’hey.’ The ships pass each other peacefully, no grimace need be exchanged. It’s less of a greeting than ‘hi’, and more of a neutral acknowledgement.

  56. Congrats Zoesays on ” on being FP’d” ….how is that for awkward It’s really saying I don’t know you, I don’t have time for this, I am really just smoozzing in the hopes you read my blog, Oh and by the way if you don’t, you will never hear from me again! Let’s face it we have become so busy and self absorbed there are hardly and “real” interactions left. I’m not angry it’s impossible to have meaningful relationships with more than just a few people…however it is certainly possible to be polite πŸ™‚ Thank you for your observations, it helps us all stop acting like we are all on auto-pilot!

    • Thank you John. I like to think that the bloggers are a bit “closer” (whatever that means in terms of the interwebs) and not everyone is out to get more traffic on his or her blog merely by commenting and congratulating another blogger. At least, that is not why I comment! But you are right, people are busy and self-absorbed and email has become the equivalent of snail mail now. Pretty ridiculous. Thanks for stopping by to read and reply. Maybe you’ll come back again!

  57. I was talking about this very thing a couple weeks ago. It definitely is socially awkward, although i am very guilty of doing it. I’m trying to stop, but I’m not quite sure how to. It just happens when I walk past someone…

  58. It’s always polite and good for the psychic to smile, so do it any way you can…

  59. Desi Valentine says:

    I laughed out loud at this. What is with the courtesy smile?!?! I know it’s necessary – especially with all of the assumptions that can arise from withholding said smile (“ohmygod she HATES me!”) – but it does look terribly strained, doesn’t it. Great post!

    • Hey Desi – a fellow Valentine! Nice to meet you, and thanks for stopping by to read. Even my coworker just mentioned to me that she read this post and thought it was dead on. She passes my desk all the time and wonders if she should be saying hi each time hahaha.

  60. This is the American way! It is not so common everywhere else in the World. It makes this country what it is and it’s reputation of friendliness and openness towards each other. It is welcoming and very much liked by people of other nations πŸ™‚ I say, keep it up!

    • Thanks!! That seems to be the consensus – a very American thing. I don’t mind being known for being a friendlier country, though disingenuous would kind of suck.

  61. I’ve always hated that pseudo-courtesy smile. When I give it, it makes me feel like that fake person who doesn’t really care to make you feel greeted, and when I get it… well, let’s just say it doesn’t exactly make my day like a real one could. My parents spent a lot of money on orthodontia for me, so I intend to start using it more. How about the rest of you? Wanna make your dentist proud?

  62. I literally laughed out loud reading this! What a great blog post- so relateable. Congrats on being FP.

  63. That picture is great!!!! Kevin totally nailed it. Loved your post, so funny and true. I have one of these closed-lipped smiles when someone says something asinine. I try not to make it, but catch myself sometimes.

    Congrats on being FP.

  64. This made my day – what a great post , creative, funny


  65. How about the one when the person asks, “How’s it going?” and keeps going so you can’t even answer her if you want to, which you don’t, because you’re doing three jobs and don’t have time to even go to the bathroom while she sits at her desk filing her nails, sipping her latte and checking her tweets.

  66. Hi..Zoe, great post! So true..I wrote about people’s additudes earlier. Not always pleasant working with the public.. (:

  67. LOL – That is quite funny and true at the same time

  68. Painting the Roses Red says:

    I love this! Thanks for posting this, because I do this all the time and wonder what I look like. haha :]

  69. I really enjoyed this post, and the comments of others. Spot on. Still laughing.

  70. Lol. I have trouble with this smile too. Tonight my son’s day care lady dropped him off at our door and she was waving at me I felt like she was trying to wipe the smile off of my face with her wave. Very ackward indeed.

  71. What a perfect post…a simple obersvation well described! Loved it!

  72. What’s worse is when the other person stops and insists on starting a conversation. It’s almost like they’re seeing your Obligatory Courtesy Smile and Raising it with the Awkward Unwanted Chit-Chat.

  73. Where I work we’re all uber geeky in one way or form. So the greetings as we pass are names. E.g. I’ll hear my name and shoot back with their name with a nod. No smiles, no social niceties. Just an acknowledgment.

  74. I always thought the obligatory courtesy smile was to not release confidential information like what i do. I took me years to have a straight face. I used to be terrible with giving straight faces.

  75. I thought I was the only person who was bothered by this!

  76. Couldn’t have said it better myself. I always feel like an idiot when I have to perform the courtesy smile because both participants know it isn’t genuine.

  77. LOL. I always thought that I’m being anti-social by only putting a flat smile and nodding at them and refusing to stop by when I meet any acquaintance for a small talk as I don’t think it’s quite necessary. But you point out here that even by giving that flat smile and nodding means I do follow the rule either. Meaning I’m not really that anti-social, huh!!??? πŸ˜€

    “I feel like if I have to participate in this ritual, everyone else should, too.”
    Yeah!! I do it too. I mean like I think at least I have to put a simple smile and nod just to show that I’m aware that those people I know are there. I think that if I ignore them it’s kinda rude or shows that I’m being disrespect to them. So I just simply want to show that “Hei, I know you!! so hi! but I’m sorry I’m not in the mood for a small talk”. πŸ˜›

    Thanks for pointing this out and congrats for being freshly pressed!! Nice post πŸ™‚

    • Thanks for stopping by to read it! There is definitely a fine line here between how anti-social or not one appears when using this “smile.”

  78. Jason, I think you hit the nail on the head. It all depends on the situation. In an office where you see the same people frequently, it’s entirely appropriate. Just do it. It’s expected. You can always strike up a conversation if you wish. However, if you, by chance encounter a friend, or even an acquaintance, that you haven’t seen for a while, it might well be considered a snub just to flash that “obligatory” smile.

  79. I ca†ch myself doing this all the time. To strangers. Sometimes to dogs. I love to acknowledge but can’t quite get to the natural smile. I should start digging deep. Thanks for this fantastic post!

  80. this is quite true. I normally wave hands or pass a smile as a customary gesture.

  81. So true: I can find that awkward, I-don’t-want-to-talk smile everyday either from me or from others. The picture is funny!

  82. I find this gesture not only “a little annoying” but also smug and ambiguous. Unless you know the other person well, you never know just what they mean by it.

  83. Santiago Restrepo Castillo says:

    There is the β€œgrr mornn…” that tries to be a β€œgood morning” in the elevators of a residential tower =P

  84. thatswhatsheset says:

    similar to the “I didnt actually hear what you said but I’m going to smile and agree anyway to end this conversation” grin…

  85. Thanks for writing this! Great post…I think we do this because at least some of us are shy and know the other person probably has as little or less time than we have, and we don’t want to bother them! I re-blogged at:
    Thanks much,

  86. Another thing at my work is them smiling at me when I’m obviously in a rush and flustered. I give that kind of tight lip smile when I pass my co-worker and they have this smile of, “Is everything alright?” And I just flash a smile real quick right back like, “Yeah, dandy, peachy, oh, I’m great.”

  87. I feel offended. I’m probably antisocial, and just FYI, I SMILE at people as an act of politeness and respect. Or would you guys prefer people like me to just walk pass you pretending that I didn’t see you at all?

    You guys probably always have tons of things to talk about. But for people like me, I just don’t know what to talk about other than hi and good morning. It’s awkward when you try to be friendly by asking some random questions like “How is work?” and ended up to be a really short and weird conversation. I’m just not good at it.

    • Not a thing wrong with smiling. I have said this before but contrary to what you may believe, I am not an extrovert! I am shy, too. I just find it funny that we all find ourselves in this situation. However, while I was not trying to make light of those who are incredibly shy or have agoraphobia, I was really referring to those who are capable adults who know what the polite thing to do is and don’t even try. Keep on smiling!

  88. When I ask the way from passers-by,some is happy to tell you,but someone is angry to tell you not ask hime,some people said directly to you,β€˜i don’t know.

  89. Better a smile than a middle finger.

  90. I am a new writer to blogging but so far I like several things you have written about. Interesting perspective. Seeming to be a wonderful thought process and understanding of the long list of items society places on us in different and almost paranoid in fashion. As if to say screw you but in all our awkward ways of saying it. Such as the grimace of greeting to which we give those out of courtesy or is it nescessity?

  91. I know it’s annoying but how annoying is pretending like you don’t see this person you refused to obligatory smile at who is now offended and making your life an awkward hell?

    • Personally, I think the whole point is that this is awkward regardless, but yes, a tight smile is better than nothing! It’s just funny that we have to do it at all.

  92. I do like the way my colleagues and I say, “Hey, how’s it going?” as we pass each other, not even stopping to get a response. It’s the new “Hi” or the non-committal smile. πŸ™‚ (just like that one!)

    • Yes, I almost wrote about the fact that, “Hey how are you?” is the new “Hello,” but kept it short and sweet. I don’t remember the last time somebody actually responded when I was asked, “Hey how are you?” and I will say, “I’m great how are you?”

  93. I always find myself trapped in this courtesy at the office. I hate doing it like a robot,

  94. i love not saying hello to anyone at work. i just ask a question or about a task. socializing is wayyyyyy overrated. and besides, why say hello over and over? my philosophy is once i said hello to you, the only thing i will say in terms of greeting is bye on my deathbed. no point in repeating hello’s during the years. it gets tiring and is counterproductive from working

  95. I find the worst encounters are when I am in my office’s kitchen with only one other person present and that person intends to engage in deep topical conversation about some recent event. I mean, all I really wanted to do was just throw some milk in my coffee and now I’m stuck talking to this person about their family camping trip.

  96. Great post on something I’ve talked about many times before. It’s just one of those things we do. And the tight little smile/grimace/not-sure-what-it-wants-to-be thingy is made even more uncomfortable when the person you’re acknowledging just completely disses you. I mean, for the love of God, I just expended time, effort, energy, and pre-planning to coordinate that bizarre facial tic, and they didn’t even seem to notice. How incredibly rude. (Of course, they get a pass if they’re obviously blind — although I’ve found myself acknowledging blind people in this way as well; maybe I just need the practice).

    As for the people who flip me off in traffic, I can honestly say I’ve never returned the favor. Instead, I blow them the biggest most obviously exaggerated kiss the world has ever seen. The expressions on their faces are truly priceless. And I haven’t been shot at even once!

  97. lol… the guy’s photo is really funny

  98. That was a funny piece Zoe…I agree 100% with what you are saying…I will say that this is also mostly an American custom…in many other countries, it wouldn’t be considered polite at all to not stop and “chat for a few minutes, ask how the family is…the kids, the mother, the wife…and then excuse yourself cause you are in a hurry….Lol….Is this your first time being featured on the home page for WordPress? Just curious…anyways, good job and keep it up!

    • Thank you so much! I love hearing about other world customs (what’s polite vs. what is not). In fact, this is my third time being featured on Freshly Pressed. The first was back in November 2010, then May of this year, and then this one! It’s such an honor and delight each time.

  99. I’m particularly fond of the ‘staring straight ahead’ look that people adopt whilst crossing the road a little too close to an oncoming car— it says “I was here first and will continue on my way, despite the fact that your vehicle weighs considerably more than I do and could end my life . .”

    • Haha! You must live in a busy metropolitan area, then. Sounds like New Yorkers. (Though, once, in the West Village, I was crossing a quiet intersection that only had a stop sign and a car didn’t come to a stop quickly enough, running into me. Luckily I only had a bruised leg for it but the driver did not get out to ask if I was all right. He drove away.)

  100. Haha! This is true. Or the “raise your brows” kind of greeting, the silent “hey”. That’s for people who are tired enough to do the flat smile.

  101. Pretty interesting read. πŸ™‚

  102. This is hilarious and the picture is a perfect representation. I don’t work in a traditional office (I work in social care) and our team is small so if we ask how are you doing we mean it. However, when I have worked in a traditional office I was grimacing all the time. Glad that is over.

  103. Just yesterday i attended an IT conference. Biggie managers wore business suits, company profits were soaring, vending machines were running overtime, jargon was flying openly as darts….just then I bumped into my own manager whom I’ve saved from many an embarrassing situation by working overtime and delivering my work “in time”. And guess what? He gave me this sort of smile whew! I call this the “I-mean-business” smile. Now, I mean business too and I’m gonna give him this smile after the appraisals πŸ™‚

  104. ayjeebee says:

    We have this thing that we follow in office. If we want to appear friendly and yet uninterested to talk or start a conversation, we do Kevin’s grimace and raise the eyebrows to look animated! Its a facial “hey, wassup!”

  105. The Brine Shrimp Chronicles says:

    You gotta love the little awkward moments. Its the spice of life.

  106. Bakbakee says:

    I’ve just joined law school. So an acknowledgement to the seniors/”classmates you dont talk much with but bump often into” is with the “weird” smile. Its a really annoying smile but helps save face when the other party doesnt want to say “hi”!

  107. Love the post, that photo says it al! These social ‘customs’ can be so awkward. My boyfriend just tells people he’s ‘incapable of small talk’ (they don’t even expect ‘the grin’ after that comment). I’m thinking about getting him the t-shirt, so he doesn’t even have to say that πŸ˜‰ He also gave me a great tip (as I have trouble recognizing faces from a distance): just look to the ground, never straight at people. And it works. I told my best friends to just yell ‘Hi!’ at me, so I’ll know it’s them (they think it’s funny) and at the people I don’t really know, I don’t have to make a funny face! You’re welcome. Here to help πŸ™‚

  108. Does anyone have a suggestion for a better way to:
    A) Acknowledge people as you walk by
    B) Greet people with something other than, “how are you?”

    Thank you!

  109. Wow – I think this may be the most responses I’ve ever seen to a post – guess we’ve all been on the giving or receiving end of this! This is one of the many reasons I love my work-at-home days when they come along. I don’t catch myself giving this smile to the pets, and they sure don’t throw one my way!

  110. And what is it about our tendency to talk about the weather in uncomfortable situations? We might as well have “I have nothing of any relevance to say to you,” tattooed on our foreheads.

    • I’ve been wondering if I should do a post about how the effect of talking about the weather more and more exponentially as we age. I used to think this was the stupidest topic ever; and it’s a serious conversation topic for some of my friends!

  111. For me it comes down to a time and place…as an early morning walker, still dazed and confused as to why exactly I am up so early in the morning I will always still give a nod or croacky ‘morning’….it’s just something you do and honestly I get really, really annoyed when others don’t return the greeting. As much as I’d rather hide in my shell and not acknowledge the world so early in the morning, it is The Polite Thing To Do…….is it really so hard to be nice?

    • I rather think it’s nice to greet people on walks or jogs, so I agree with you there. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to be genuine and say hello.

  112. ha ha ha ! to say, you have hit the nail on the head, will be not incorrect πŸ˜‰ Here in India, i work in a mammoth organisation with thousands of other each time a familiar face passes by you in the corridor, you and the familiar face has anxious few seconds on how to ‘acknowledege’ say an infromal ‘Hi’, or add a’How r u today’ to that ? or practice your made-up smile once again ??? sometimes, we don’t do either, or all three ! πŸ˜€ Talk about awkwardness ! – P

  113. Or you could see it from this point of view…socially we need to retain and practice more common everyday polite rituals, they are desolving quickly–it makes for a better social environment. To put things in perspective I always ask myself what kind of world would it be if we all did____or didn’t___. The partial smile, nod, or hello or ‘how are ya’ to a perfect stranger or acquaintance makes for better social energy between humans. I love when someone holds the door for me or makes meaningless small talk while waiting in line–it makes me feel connected as a whole, acknowledged as being in this together. In a world where people seem to be getting angrier and more self absorbed its nice to feel polite, positive, kind energy from another human, even if it comes in the form of an obligatory half smile. Let people be polite, even if it seems forced or obligatory—its a better world with it than without it.

    • I’m continually surprised at how most people (and a lot of men) will hold doors. I love that custom. It gives you a reason to smile and say, “Thank you!” Well put πŸ™‚

  114. LOL, I thought that picture was so spot on it really made me think of my own silly inane smile that I do when I pass complete strangers or am stood at a bus stop! Basically its – ‘hello, I’m smiling at you, but I’m not opening my mouth i.e. I don’t want to talk so don’t take this as an intro to a conversation!’ Thanks for sharing πŸ™‚

  115. A good thing about this smile, which i have noticed out of India, is that it helps you establish a connection, if you are in a new place and lonely. Unfortunately India has so many people that i personally have seen much less of any kind of smiles passing among strangers. Strange, eh?

  116. I totally agree with you. I’ve seen that smile on many a face… I always make it a point to smile properly (even if I fail at it miserably).

    I’ve always been annoyed when I’m telling a hopefully non-boring story and the person I’m telling it to keeps nodding or is too awkward to meet your eye. Even worse, when I tell them a whole paragraph and all they say is “ok”.

    Anyway, lovely post and congratz on being Freshly Pressed!

    • Thank you so much. Like you, I can’t stand going on in a conversation (in person or online) and having a one word reply. It makes me so irritated and then I go into pedantic lecture mode on the art of conducting a conversation (at least in my head).

  117. Hehe the introvert smile!

  118. First of all congratulations for making it in the freshly pressed! I’m sure your site stats is accelerating to the fullest at this point πŸ™‚

    I agree with your points and if I would identify one social ritual that I often struggle, its making small talk with a colleague or any acquaintance you happen to encounter along the public transportation or while walking. Its hard to start the topic and it would be somehow rude to just keep quiet.

    • Yes, I have had that happen to me several times, at least when I lived in NYC. It was always awkward when it would happen with someone with whom I never chatted but to be polite, we’d “catch up.” And thanks for the congrats, this is my third time being featured but this is the highest number of hits I’ve ever gotten. I guess a lot of people can relate!

  119. There is a father from my son’s first grade class who smiles exactly like that. We live in Montpelier, Vermont and in the Montpelier, VT public schools the kindergarten and 1st grade “loop” that means that as long as the kids pass they keep their kindergarten teacher for 1st grade, which means that we do a lot of things together. There was a concert with an art exhibit afterwards, there was an end of the year BBQ, there were two play dates, there was an open house before kindergarten, the teacher has a blog for her class so there is always an open forum. except in the summer I think, she emails us and so their can be bulk emails going around, the school is in the state capitol and some of us walk to bring our kids to school and to pick them up all year long, if you time that right the kids can play in the playground before and after school, we can volunteer at the school, etc. The man with the “obligatory smile” I did not know that was what it was… My son likes his son and we have gone to McDonald’s with his wife and his son before. He was on a trip and was not with us at the time. I did sit and talk with him at the BBQ. I did stand near him at the last play date and chit chat with him a little. I just wind up next to him often also because he was a “walker” to get his son from school last year. I am now wondering if I sould be trying to give him more space. I am a single mom, so I am often at these events alone.

    • First of all, I LOVE Vermont! I have a relative who lived there for years. I think we went into Montpelier once. So gorgeous. Can’t wait to go back sometime. I do think that if this man is constantly giving you this “smile,” he is probably self-conscious and doesn’t know what to say. My bf does it all the time but if you chat with him enough, he warms up enough to loosen up. Perhaps this man is similar and it’ll take a few more interactions before he stops being so shy.

  120. I know that face and nod. I get it plenty from the women in my town. Fantastic post and congrats on Freshly Pressed.

  121. I tend to have two smiles. Your “obligatory smile” for people ranging from complete strangers to vague acquaintances who I’m being polite to but don’t want to or can’t be bothered interacting with further, and the open happy smile for more familiar acquaintances or friends who I’d be happy to have a chat with. It helps leave it up to them if they want to talk or just keep on going. Great observation skills, it’s the walking version of the limp wristed hand wave we give if someone lets us in when merging into traffic.

    • Excellent analogy! I have an array of smiles, as well. I am terrible at faking being genuine. It’s why in my younger years, I would have notes in my job reviews saying that I needed to “improve my attitude,” when really it would be controlling my facial expressions in being asked to do things I thought were asinine.

  122. That is exactly what my English Literature teacher would do to me in the hallway; except that she’d make that grimace for a split second and then assume her normal facial expression.

    Which would make a normal person laugh in her face. We got used to it somehow though πŸ˜›

  123. That guy is real cute.. πŸ˜€ Is he your bf?? Anyway, that face is annoying but it’s kinda better than no recognition at all. πŸ™‚ Smile is still fine though. πŸ™‚

  124. I find that smile terrible as well. Sometimes it’s so sour it ruins my day. I think a smile costs nothing and even though I am quite antisocial and I am generous with my smiles πŸ™‚

  125. Very good post about something alot of us do and see, but I never read an article about it, before!
    How about this social awkwardness: holding the door open for someone, if they are close enough to wait for as they get TO the door, by your fingertips trying to maintain politeness while in your mind saying, “Hurry up…geez.” And if they are not close enough, making a last minute decision to NOT hold the door for someone coming up behind you…

    • Haha, I’ve done this before. Even worse is if you hold the door for the next person and five other people take advantage of the open door, stampeding by you.

  126. gravity shifter says:

    I am so glad you wrote a blog about this because it is so true. I have a couple people in my life that make the weird/frenzied/awkward face. When they do it I think of them as being so awkward they just do not know what to do with their face muscles when they see me. I say hello, and it is very predictable what type of response I get. It is usually one of those semi-complaint, semi-annoyed response about how their day is going. Not being mean or anything, but I don’t care about how awkward your day is, friend. Life isn’t that bad.

  127. choronghi says:

    i heard smiling when you really don’t want to smile makes your face assymetrical 😦

  128. Yeah, there are some people that can just plant theirs shoes on your feet and NOT feel anything!

  129. HotPotato says:

    It comes down to your attitude, and why you’re giving these obligatory smiles. Here are two alternatives:

    (a) You genuinely want to live in community with people, even with strangers, so even if inside you, you’re not feeling great on a given day, you still take the effort to give a smile to people, because people matter, even strangers; or

    (b) You’re actually an asshole inside, and you hate it that society makes you give these obligatory smiles.

    In past decades, when people were gentler and kinder, these smiles actually came from the heart – but as society has gotten coarser – notably because of the drip-feed influence of crass TV and movies, people don’t care anymore, but the social conventions remain, so young people are questioning these conventions. They don’t realise that, in bygone ages, they weren’t just conventions, but were a sign that people were taking a minimal step to live in harmony with each other.

    If you can’t see that, it’s typical that people within a culture usually cannot analyse their own culture objectively.

    Rather than dismissing the outward rituals, have you ever considered changing the inner person so that the inner correlates with the outer?

    If no one in your circle of friends does that, then that’s the culture you live in – and you’re trapped in it, because … you don’t know anyone else who lives other than like that. But recognise that it is your cultural circle, and your writing reflects the inability to step outside your culture. There are other cultures where people do connect with other people, and smile because it reflects what’s going on inside them. You just gotta get out of your culture, and go find them.

    • Great points, HotPotato! I’m a nice person so I don’t like to dismiss people outright – hence the “smile.” It’s also cultural. I don’t hate social customs but we do have some odd ones. But I do agree that society has gotten “coarser.”

    • Yeah!! Devils advocate makes better sense then blogger πŸ™‚ haha … Okay, so my knee jerk response to the blog post was a much less eloquent version of your response, none the less I concur – the acknowledgment “smile” is a valid and possibly necessary remnant of proper courtesy. It absolutely serves as more then a way to excuse oneself from having contact with someone. That I think it is perspective. I would have thought it a way to acknowledge people you know in turn.

  130. I find the tricky part holding the awkward smile until the other person passes and switching back to my normal face without being awkward again.

  131. Great post! I think about silly things people do like this all the time. Human ways are very bizarre (and funny) if you really think about them.
    β€œI don’t want to stop and chat so I’ll make this weird face.” Hilarious.
    How about the faces and movements people make when they argue? Or when food finally arrives at a gathering and nobody wants to be the first to get it. Their eyes wander to it, but they wait for someone else to go to the food first, then the next thing you know, there’s a line.

    • Ha, yes, nobody wants to start the stampede. I have found myself in the past willing to be the first to go up to the buffet when I’m starving. It takes mere seconds for people to follow!

  132. I have had the misfortune of dealing with a lot of mean, rude people in my life. A LOT of mean people. So the way I see it, a smile is great even if it’s a an obligatory, awkward smile. To me it means that the smile-giver at least wants to appear friendly. After having worked for 4 years in retail where people threw things at me, cursed me out, barked orders at me, I’m willing to accept a forced, awkward smile.

    • Retail can get UGLY but people throwing things at you? Good grief. I agree, an awkward smile would be welcome under those circumstances.

  133. I’m chronically shortsighted and have glasses that are half the strength of what they should be. I’ve been advised to master this half-smile that may or may not be aimed at those greeting you, and allows you to looks as if you’re deep in thought at the same time. Saves me from 1)being a jerkwad, and 2)looking like a saddo waving to everyone who ignored me.

  134. so many comments I just went through the first few… oh my… I hear ya… people would say “how are ya” well my point “don’t ask if you don’t want to know” so what I do when they ask “how are you” I will say “and how are you” just to see if they really wanted to know. Come on now. If you ask you might just get it. But just so you know I am pretty layed back. I learned a lot of things through my years. That when people have problems with things it’s just that, their problems. I adopted a saying which I got from a movie Meg Ryan started in “Kate & Leopold” I absolutely love that show. Love anything to do with time travel, at least most of them. Meg Ryan said “I don’t give a rats ass what you think!” Hmmm…. I like that. giggle giggle… ya I don’t give a rats ass… I would tell people. This is not to any of you. Just one of my terminology I use. If they have a problem with something deal with or discuss it work it out or hit the road. Simple as that. So please don’t take anything I say here personal. It’s not to any of you. It’s to some of those idiots, well lets say those idiots are no more in my life. Nice fun easy life. Which I love to enjoy. Pretty simple. Quiet and serene.

  135. I like the quick smile. It says: “Hey, how you doin’? I’m doin’ alright myself”, without getting too personal. We can’t just walk past people like we’re walking in Time Square in NYC not connecting with other people.

  136. I gotta quickly respond … sorry people… it’s not just an american thing… I am canadian… it is world wide I am sure that little quick grimace smile… great conversation everyone… awesome…

  137. Jennifer Roberts July 29, 2011 at 3:30 pm … I totally hear ya… people, go figure…. you know I am gonna have to put something on my blogs about personality… mine is such that I love to have fun… sorry a little off the topic but some what on it… it all has to do with personality types and how they deal with things day to day and of course how their day is going… people … my oh my
    depending how I am feeling I would probably do an I love lucy thing… she is quite the goof up.. well sorry… I’m going on again… I just love to have fun… great stuff guys

  138. Ok, this is a long conversation already. I didnt read it all, and please dont consider me rude because of this πŸ˜‰
    The “rules” about asking and what to answer are different everywhere. Problems only occure when two people meet, who think about the hoal thing differently. For example, I normaly just say “hi” and dont ask anything. But if I meet people, I know they always as but dont expect a correct answer I just answer “fine and you?”. But if I meet a close friend and he/she askes me how I am doing I will respond. Right?
    The point is to know whom you are speaking to.
    And please dont argue about the way other people deal with it. Dont you aspect other people to accept you and your way of greeting? So please accept theirs…

    • I can’t imagine a person going through and reading all these comments! (I did because it’s my blog but it’s understandable.) Everyone handles these situations differently – I think “hi” is perfectly acceptable, except when you see someone ten times in a day, you don’t HAVE to say hi each time. That was really my point.

  139. Happens to me all the time!
    The nods reserved for the men and the thin smile for the ladies!
    Almost as awkward as when people come up to you to shake your hand and you don’t know whether they’re going for a casual shake, a shake and a back pat or a belly bounce…
    My favorite thing is to force someone into a hug!
    Just spreading the uncomfortableness…
    Hilarious post and congrats on being f’pressed!

    • Ha, I should do a post on hand shaking sometime. They really do say a lot about a person and I’ve found that most people don’t even want to shake hands if they don’t have to. Hugging is a whole different ballgame. Thanks for coming by to read and comment!

  140. The worst is when you run into someone in the grocery store. Someone you haven’t seen in a while. You weren’t best friends, but spoke on a regular basis. You give them a hug, ask a genuine, “How ARE you?”. You chat for a few minutes about general life, then say good bye. However, we’re both just getting to the grocery store, so you end up seeing them again down every aisle you go down. At first you both laugh a bit, but by the third aisle what are you supposed to do? You can’t very well ignore them, but it’s no longer “funny” and neither of you really wants to chat again about the few general things you say to someone in that type of situation. So awkward smile it is. Then you magically end up in the same line to check out, so you’re standing beside one another for 10 minutes… Again awkward. I feel bad for wanting to ignore them, but there’s just nothing else to say.

  141. says:

    Hi Zoe, I am one who likes to go out of my way to say GOOD MORNING and make people respond even if they don’t want to. I feel that I am making them realize they need to be more friendly and come out of their protected life.

  142. Brilliant post and congrats on the FP. Personally I think that corridor etiquette should be taught from an early age. For example, when walking down a long passageway eye-contact must not be made with someone approaching from the opposite direction until the very last moment when eyes may be averted from the wall/floor/paperwork in your hand, to mouth the word ‘hi’ or make the weird face aforementioned. Is there any way to avoid such social awkwardness?

  143. I haven’t read all the comments because I’ve got furniture to chew so I’m a little pressed for time, but has anyone else noticed how many steps you take before you stop smiling indicates how much you like the person you just smiled at?

    • Just realised that made a lot of sense.
      I hate how we’ve all become victims of this whole superficiality/appearances fiesta. I was so disappointed with myself when I realised I unconsciously picked up that split second from-smile-to-straight-face face.

      Smiles should last on faces for as long as possible, even if we all end up looking like lunatics. 83

  144. Haha! That is sooooo true..I could not have agreed more…the photograph is a true representation and symobilic of the smile!I think I am going to let out a small giggle thinking about this post everytime I give that obligatory smile! Great post!

  145. I found this quite amusing…then I remembered – there are reasons why people consider dogs and cats as best friends and providers of unrequited love. They have very distinct patterns to show that they are happy to see their owners. They have a singular way of showing love by being beside you whether you (as the owner) are sad or just feeling all drained. And a very showy way of wagging their tail when all uppity and happy or just brushing their fur on your legs when they want to snuggle with you.
    Perhaps that smug smile would work with people who know us already and would have easily understood what we meant because we have had previous inter-actions with them and are not just being rude. But for a totally random person to understand what that smile meant…it would have been interpreted differently. For complex beings with varied means of communication (verbal, body language, written, emoticons for chatting) perhaps we should develop and agree on a generally accepted … β€œI don’t know…gesture”, β€œGreetings” or even β€œAcknowledged”? Once used will be easily understood. If I say or do this meant, β€œ Hello, I’d like to talk to you but I’m busy.” Or, β€œHi, I am in need of someone to talk to but I’m too shy to start the conversation.”. Or even maybe, ”I’m desperately in need of a hug right now-can you spare me a shoulder to cry on?” For well developed beings with complex communication methods, why can’t we come up with this? Does it have to come down to cultural differences? I believe all people of different races are just happy being acknowledged, even if they are introverts or not. Have you ever seen the movie β€œMeet the Fokkers”? Talk about hug issues (Dustin Hoffman) and stiff logs (Robert De Niro), how do you break the ice without breaking all the crystals in the house? Major communication challenges there!

  146. Oh and btw, you found yourself a perfect model for the subject…lol!

  147. LOL. Such a true post. And how many of us have used the good old “cell phone save”. Upon hearing the approaching voice of someone you wish to avoid, you immediately pull out your cell phone and act like you’re reading an incoming text, all the while hoping you don’t crash into the corner of someone’s cubicle because you’re looking down at your cell phone while walking.

  148. Love it! This is so random, yet so true.

  149. How about replacing the goofy smile or wave with a courtesy flashing. We can just expose our genitals when we feel that we have to greet somebody.

  150. Kevin nailed it.

  151. Congrats on being FP! As a person with autism, this gesture mystifies me, as does the “How are you?” obligatory question. I wish we could do away with this crap entirely.

    • I’m really fascinated by this perspective. I actually do wonder if perhaps the same would extend to someone with Aspergers. Thanks for the congrats!

  152. Congratulations on the FP!
    My life is mainly a decoupage of awkward moments.

    I don’t know where it all went wrong though, I lost all my social graces as I went through the last of my teenage years.

    I’ve accidentally kissed a superior on the cheek while engaging in an awkward hug and touched the hand of my principal during a photo-taking session at an awards ceremony.

    The tight-lipped smile is probably the least of my worries…except that I look like a complete idiot when it happens to me. Expectations: something at least halfway as decent as Kevin’s.
    Reality: Grouper.

    • Decoupage, wonderful word. I love that you want to aspire to something half as good as Kevin’s smile. He never realized how much he did it. I’ve been pointing it out to him and he’s become exasperated. I still find it insanely cute.

      Thanks for coming by to read and for your congrats!

    • Kevin Schneider says:

      The accidentally kissing a superior’s cheek is hilarious – it’s like a sitcom!

  153. I wonder if anthrologists have looked into this expression’s similarity to the “I’ve really got to find a bathroom” expression? Perhaps at some repilian level the smiler produces this expression to make the other person uncomfortable… after all, who wants to hang around someone in desperate need to relieve themself? I sure don’t…there could be an accident!

  154. I stopped doing that smile years ago as a test (to see what would happen). Well, people would stop to ask if I was sick! Acquaintances thought I was ill if I didn’t smile. So now I’ve gone back to doing the smile, since the absence of that little social nicety seems to make everyone even more uncomfortable. Isn’t that strange?

    • Isn’t that SO funny? (Funny as in bizarre.) It’s like when I don’t wear makeup, I would get, “You look tired.” Gee, thanks. This is just my face.

  155. It gets overdone, too. I work in a converted conference room with several other folks, and my desk is positioned by the door just right so that the movement of anyone walking by our room causes me to look at them out of reflex, and almost always they look right back. There are several people which I’ve just decided to call “regulars” that always do the courtesy smile without fail. You’d think after 200 times over the course of a week or two, they’d catch I’m not smiling and nodding back anymore, so they’re off the hook, too. It’s just weird . . . it’s starting to look like they’re flirting with me.

    • Hahahaha I really loved this comment. I sit at the front of my office and that is partially what inspired this post. After the cursory good mornings and small talk, I keep eyes planted on my computer screen, just to let people know they’re off the hook. Do you like working in an open office like that? At least no one sits around me so it feels more private.

  156. All presidents of the US seem to have this weird face too when they are informing the public they once again HAVE TO go to war after they tried everything to avoid it, but as a compensation regretting it. It’s a slight variation on this one.

    Rancilio Silvia

  157. I find it does occasionally serve a valid purpose, although much more prominently for guys. Sometimes your buddy’s down on his luck and the best you can offer is an awkward smile and a pat on the back, because nothing you say will make it any better.

    • I wondered if someone else would think this serves better for guys vs. gals. I think it’s why I find Kevin’s smile so endearing. It’s such a guy smile.

  158. That smile is sort of apologetic, saying, “Well, if I had more time, I’d give you a proper smile with teeth and even refrain from immediately breaking eye contact, but we don’t have time, so this will have to do.” I think the smile captures it rather well, at least we all seem to understand it. And it is better than ignoring everyone. However, if you don’t like it, walk around looking at the ground as if deep in thought, and as if you haven’t seen the person. That can work too. Congrats on Freshly Pressed!

  159. When you’re walking along the street and a stranger approaches, this smile works too. How long the smile lasts and how long, if at all, we hold eye contact I think depends on how friendly we feel to strangers and also how shy or embarassed we may be, even if we do feel friendly. Its complicated!

  160. Self-pitty is the first word that comes to me when i see this smile.. don’t know why. πŸ™‚

  161. I enjoyed your ‘observation’.

    It’s unfortunate, but common courtesy and good manners have gone the way of the Dodo. I would prefer “the olden times” in regards to this social ritual.

  162. Lol, that is funny πŸ™‚

  163. How true. I’ve found it useful in politely avoiding a conversation with particular acquaintances and strangers, or to bring conversation to a close.

  164. hahaha! I like the description you give it “where you flatten your lips and smile tightly as you pass each other”. But personally I think it’s better than ignoring someone as you walk past them.

  165. I totally hate it too…its even more awkward when you are in an elevator and just waiting to get to your floor…time takes forever

  166. This goes along with people in elevators who all look at the numbers to avoid looking or talking to each other.

  167. good stuff lol

  168. Great post, it is similar to the main topic I share in my blog I have found that we are all trying to avoid each other, as if we are afraid that our deepest secrets will somehow be revealed if we say too much, or disclose too much to others. We live in a world where most of us are afraid of each other, and we rather act as if we are living in our own living world, comfortable with our own selfish, individual agendas. We are dishonest with each other, so we pretend we are nice and give a fake smile, or a short “Hello”, but don’t really mean it. I am also trying to have others be more aware of this flaw that most of us practice everyday. Anyways, feel welcome to visit my blog and read more about this topic. Have an honest, great day. Let us be Frank.

    • You make some excellent points, Noel! You could probably write the follow-up post to this one haha. And a lovely evening to you, as well.

  169. cocoalikesthis says:

    ick! I especially loathe the obligatory courtesy smile exchange that always takes place between passengers on the elevator. After the initial “smile” you spend the rest of the time in the elevator trying not to acknowledge the other riders’ presence ever again.

  170. This is the funniest picture I’ve ever seen on a blog. My apologies to your boyfriend! I’m sure my polite smile is way goofier. Thank-you for pointing this out to the world. I’m still going to use my polite face but I’ll be sure to have a laugh at myself while I’m doing it. I’m an instant fan, keep the posts coming!

    • I’m cracking up over here. I love that it’s “the funniest picture” you’ve ever seen on a blog. I think we could all do with laughing at ourselves more!

  171. I love this! Its SO true… its such an automatic response to an awkward meeting with an “acquaintance”! LOL

  172. bucketsofrandom says:

    lol, this is so true. Though I don’t think I look AS awkward as that…but yea, i give the people I don’t have time to talk to a “polite smile.” But I smile constantly I’m sure the yare used to it lol

  173. This is an interesting thing to bring up. If you work in a small office and you chat with everyone except that one person you don’t really like. And that one person you grimace to… they know you dont like them! lol I never really thought about it.
    Great pictures by the way. I recognized Pioneer Square at the top of your page when I clicked on your article on the Freshly Pressed Page :-).
    Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed

    • Thanks!! I am going to divulge a “secret” right here on this blog…I do the exact thing that you mentioned. It’s so hard for me to fake being genuine with people I don’t like that it’s very obvious who I am closer with in my office vs. not! Thanks for coming by to read and for your congrats!

  174. Yikes. Maybe it is my biological mother that is grimicing at me through the World. Does that every happen to any one else, but me?

  175. Totally agreed, the smile thing sucks, but hey we can’t do anything for it lol except i like the idea of just forcing an anti social into a quick greeting. everyone should try it and mark their reaction haha.
    Greetings *tips my hat*

  176. I usually wave as I pass others by, but don’t want to talk. To me it makes perfect sense- I don’t want to start a conversation, but want to acknowledge the other person.

  177. Hey, Zoe! I’m impressed by the amount of comments you get to your posts; I wish I got only half of them to mine!
    I just want you to tell Kevin (the guy in the picture) that I send a kiss; he’s such a hunk! I’m serious.

    All the best from PerΓΊ.

    • Hello there! I usually do not get this sheer number of replies. I started out with and maintained Z E R O comments to my blog posts for a couple of years. It is only within the last 10 months or so that commenting has taken off but not nearly to this degree! I had Kevin read your comment and he made an even funnier face. He doesn’t think he’s cute, which of course is ridiculous. I totally took your comment seriously. And my best from the US of A!

  178. First off…. congrats on being Freshly Pressed! Second…. Kevin made me laugh!!

    I’ve never given much thought to the obligatory smile and nod because I get so frustrated when I see folks in such a hurry that they can’t simply slow down and acknowledge their fellow human beings. Personally, I’d rather receive the obligatory nod, but from now on it will never be the same!! πŸ™‚

    Thanks for the chuckle, and for sharing your very well written post.

    • Thanks!! He’s a little stunned at how many views this wee post has gotten, even being Freshly Pressed! He undervalues how humorous he can be, as well. I’m glad that between his face and my writing, we could provide some chuckles!

  179. Hillarious! Love your humor!

  180. this is so true and funny especially when it happens with someone that you don’t know in the train or on the sidewalk when you guys make eye contact

  181. I feel like I may do this more than a person should. Now I realize I look like an idiot.

    This is a sad day for me…

  182. Great post! Growing up, I’ve always believed that eye contact=no fear/confidence, so I’ve never really been an “eye-shifter” when talking to someone. Something awkward: when someone you know passes you by, you both make eye contact, you open your mouth to say ‘hello’, and the other person pretends to look away. I’ve never really understood why that happens….

  183. mere politeness…
    nice pict anyway…

  184. haha, nice post :)))))

  185. mycatalogue22 says:

    This is true. I can actually relate myself with this piece. πŸ™‚

  186. I just thought I would let you know, as I stumbled upon your blog today, that I enjoyed & giggled at this posting. Kudos! πŸ™‚ Sonya

  187. Dummies !! That’s monkey language for “I’m not going to attack” LOLLL Seriously though, a primal instinct bit of body language that we are barely aware of, and yet that we cannot stop ourselves from doing. HAHA Look at his face, haven’t you ever watched chimps & other primates making weird faces or weird poses of body language? Since they don’t have a voice box, they communicate in this manner. We did too, once, god knows how long ago. I think it’s cool.
    On the other hand, I do make this yucky fake smile they are talking about here. And yes I do the eyebrow raise thing. But usually I smile at anyone who makes eye contact with me. I mean a real smile that reaches the eyes.

    I moved to Sweden & People there don’t make ANY expression at all when you walk past, even when they make “slight” eye contact with you – it has been someone unsettling to me. Frankly I would rather have the fake courtesy smile than a “i just sucked a lemon, or is it just you” expression XD

    I recall working in a very professional “bank” building, in Memphis Tennessee & one day I was in this great happy mood, I mean just one of those blue sky, whistling, glad to be alive days. Then as I walked down the marble hallways, almost every single person shot me a fantastic smile, and some also said ‘hi’ good morning-howz it going’ (these are strangers mind you)
    I thought WOW, this IS a great day & everybody must be feeling it too !! & I wonder WHY everybody is so happy today. As I walked past the “reflective” elevator doors, I noticed that I had a HUGE smile on my face/the relaxed natural kind, where you eyes crinkle before your smile is even on your lips – and also realized that my expression had not changed since I entered the building. All those people were responding to ME – the smile I wasn’t even aware was on my face; how I nodded in greeting or said ‘hey” as I walked past. That actually felt so much better, than thinking it was “just one of those days” for everybody. I MADE a whole bunch of people, feel a little happier, and they made me feel happier when they returned my smile. It’s beautiful – we should all try it sometime. πŸ™‚

  188. hi Zoe,
    This is the first time i am reading your blog. I have laughed at these quaint measures people take to be considered social and friendly. Personally i hate these πŸ™‚
    Its a good point that you have taken up and i shall laugh inside when i see the next person who i meet do this and think “ah! this is what Zoe means “

  189. Oh yes! I know that face well because that is my face! I irritate myself when I do this. I figure it’s the only way I won’t be thought of as a snob. I have a picture of myself making this same face. I look totally stupid. Great post. Congrats on being FP!

  190. Well I hope it’s not too much information, but usually I am about to pee my pants when I make that exact same face and I can talk because my back teeth are floating.

    Have a great day and Congrats on being Freshly Smirked..I mean Freshly Pressed.

    Have A Great Day!

    Mr Bricks

    • Hahahaha that is a great image, though! Thanks for your congrats and enjoy your day, as well! (I find that sometimes the “TMI” stuff is the spice o’ life.)

  191. That’s a nice smile lol. Thanks for sharing! I’m new to blogging here and I just love how supportive and creative everyone is! If you have time, could you please check out my blog? I would love some advice and feedback πŸ™‚

  192. You make a valid point about the awkward smile! Many people say that a decent smile (showing teeth) really makes another persons day. I think the more of us who take the initiative to offer a friendly smile to a co-worker, friend, or complete stranger will be contributing to making our society a positive and cheerful atmosphere. Thank you for pointing this out!

    If its okay with you, I just started my own blog recently and I would really like to post my link along with my comment, it’s I invite you and your readers to take a look at it, comment, and subscribe!

    Thank you for your post! I really enjoyed reading it!

  193. 20110731.1720

    How would you feel if the reply to your smile is a frown or like Kevin’s blank look?

  194. I was reading this to my husband and had to attempt the “I don’t want to talk to you so I’ll make this weird face line” 3 times because it made me laugh so hard. Really funny.

    • Sorry for the delayed response – hard to keep up! I read this comment this morning aloud back to Kevin. It really made me laugh. Glad to have shared some with you!

  195. roadtotomorrow says:

    I really enjoyed reading you frank and simple observation you took something with little detail to it (courtesy smile) and made it a detailed insight. I just started writing and wouldn’ mind someone of your clear talent to pass through my page from time to time indeed anyone who is reading this as well and pass some judgement and insight into my writings.

  196. Enjoyed your blog!
    Congrats on being Freshly-pressed!

  197. Interesting post. Thanks for sharing…. on my 2 cents though….

    I think the obligatory smile is the shortened version of the small talk. Both although, as mentioned quite annoying and forced, acknowledges somebody’s existence in this world (even if honestly we don’t want to acknowledge it) and establishes a form of connection that can be tapped into for a future event, whether it is the need to discuss a project, or to give a memo or whatever, whatever.

    Otherwise, if all of sudden you talk to this person for a project or a need or something, without doing this social nicety, then you’ll come out rude or like a user, (even it’s work related).

    yeah… you’re right it’s silly LOL

  198. Great blog!
    N congrats for being freshly pressed~!

  199. its so true though, kinda obligatory “i dont want to smile but my face feels like it should do something”!

  200. Haha this whole post is all truth. That awkward smile, err… abiding by the social norms is just so abnormal when you think of it. Haha

    • Right….I probably could have tried to word it a bit better. It was meant to be more of a self-referential post about humanity but has been construed 1,000 different ways!

  201. Spinster says:

    This post is genius.


    A social awkward introvert.

  202. Spinster says:

    This post is genius.


    A sociallly awkward introvert.

  203. I try and smile anytime in make eye contact with a stranger, co-worker, friends. A real smile. Sometimes I’ll say “Hi”. It seems to work just as well as “the grimace” (now dubbed). Great post. Grats on FP

  204. Cez Prieto says:

    It’s better to do this smile rather than to be misunderstood and be tagged as snobbish…haha

  205. Haha! interesting post. i don’t think i ever make those faces, but then again… maybe i unknowingly do.
    what i find funny though is how people like to end a conversation (especially when you happen to bump into a long-lost acquaintance) with “Well, let’s catch up one day.” it is just another social nicety but seldom do they carry it through with the organising of a meet-up. i once responded to this with “Ok! when shall we meet? next week?” and was met by taken-aback stares.

    • Finding an elegant way to end small talk is really frustrating across the board. I LOVE that you offered to take up the offer to catch up and you were met with blank stares. You basically outed their “sincere” bluff!

  206. OMG, it’s so true and yet I get totally offended by the people in my office who continually don’t return my obligatory courtesy smile… Oh dear, lol!

    • Hahahaha well I guess it’s time to go for the genuine smiles and don’t offer anything to those who never meet yours! P.S. I love your gravatar image!

  207. I tink its the humann gesstures that lubricate the social cogs and make things run a little smoothly.

  208. Well, I would like to catch up with old friends, but my telephone number has been in the phone book for 5 years and I can only think of one girlfriend from high school that has called me to catch up and one cousin. Good for them though.

    • Oh my, the phone book! I am pretty sure NYC stopped distributing them. I don’t know about my current city but if we have one, it’s small haha. This means the phrase, “I’m in the book” is going extinct, if it hasn’t already.

  209. Read.Cook.Devour. says:

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks about these things.

  210. Isn’t it even worse when the “hello” and nod is completely unexpected? You can just be walking along, minding your own business, when suddenly – someone greets you! The smile you return can be even more awkward than when you are ready… I know, personally, that my “Hiya!” always comes out high-pitched and startled.

    • I have totally done that! When I’ve been lost in thought and someone greets me totally unexpectedly, I get the deer in headlights look and my reply is waaaaay too enthusiastic. Great point!

  211. I read that we tend to autonomically ape the other person’s expression
    but where did he/she get the expression from?

    thank you Kevin

    • Haha! Indeed. I have also read/seen somewhere that a flattening/tightening/hiding of the mouth of lips is a sign of insecurity. It would make sense in these instances when we just don’t know what to say to one another.

  212. Everyone seems to wear a public mask on their face. People tend to forget being honest to themselves. Everything is so artificial.

  213. It seems that I am not alone in the “like” department. That was exactly the humor I needed. I know I do the same face to people. Usually it is because I don’t recognize them or just don’t want to recognize them. I think the face that bothers me the most is the fake smile that fades.

    Sometimes I walk by people and they give the same one-two liners with this big smile “Hi, how are you? How’s your job?” and then they brush by not even waiting for the answer. The smile just drops like it was never there. And ugly facade, like they have to. Requirement of proper etiquette.

    • I love your user name (and blog name, too)! I don’t believe I ever did a post specifically about being a logophile myself, but I definitely am one. Love being a wordsmith. Anyhow, totally agree that the “Hi, how are you?” is the new hello. We’re not looking for answers, we’re just trying to acknowledge others without having to stop and step outside of ourselves for a few minutes.

  214. good observation. πŸ™‚ ( not an obligatory smile ). hope to read a few more witty ones.

  215. But have you noticed: We withhold the “obligatory smile” from poor people and homeless people, and often from young people?
    That seemingly meaningless little smile is actually a potent social gesture shouting OUT LOUD :”I recognize you; I acknowledge you; You are a significant person, etc.etc.
    Bette Midler sings a haunting song, “Hello In There,” about our coldness to the marginalized people in society. The final verse is this:

    “So if you’re walking down the street sometime
    and you should spot some hollow ancient eyes,
    don’t you pass them by and stare
    as if you didn’t care.
    Say, “Hello in there. Hello.”
    Touche’, Bette!

  216. The best and most akward moment is when you’re in an elevator with a stranger. This “pressed lips” smile is highly used then as well. I try to never do this constipated smile. I try to have a conversation with the individual and decrease the uncomfortableness. πŸ™‚

  217. That’s very noble of you! I enjoyed the adjective “constipated” to describe the smile. It does look it. I am terrible about small talk, especially in close confines, so I look strained.

  218. I live in an apartment building with an elevator. I have been here for 5 + years. I think that I usually give in to the one liner too rather than the tight lipped smile.

  219. I’m guilty of flashing the courtesy smile, but I love it. It allows me to be polite when I’m in a hurry. Much better than acting like I didn’t see someone I’ve already made eye contact with.

  220. Sweet Endeavor says:

    Spot on! Especially living in New York City, I see this so often, even with people who are strangers.

  221. This smile gets really pushed to the max when my wife and I go walking on this popular little mile long track. You see the same people going the opposite direction over and over! It’s hilarious how people deal with it. One guy tries to come up with a clever quip every time we pass- cracks me up. Others figure once is enough and then walking by is fine. Still others try to carry a conversation, a couple lines at a time added each passing. The most popular is to make some comment about how long its been or some other exercise type remark. This is really effective because it puts everyone’s mind on the walk as if to say, “This is what we’re here for, so let’s not stop to talk about anything else, ok?” Good post. Awkward feeling. And btw, I am the KING of the courtesy smile!

    • Yes! You gotta give those people marks for trying to make light of the situation, and it’s nice you jump right in with it. You will have to post a photo of your Courtesy Smile and come back and link to it! I’m biased because of course I think Kevin does it best.

  222. ZOE…this post of yours certainly did garner a load of responses! Wow.

    So, to add my two cents…Let’s go back to the hat-tipping and courtseying! That must have been pretty cool.

    • It’s insane, right?! I would LOVE to see someone do an undercover camera skit where a women curtseys at passersby. I think it’d be hilarious.

  223. I would have to say you hit it SPOT on lol

  224. omg hahahaha I hate that! I was just thinking about this the other day because I actually did it back to someone who did it to me. Great fluff piece. It’s a hilarious truth. πŸ™‚ also congrats on getting freshly pressed!

  225. theredbench says:

    Lolollolll… dead on right!! I hate that face… I think I make that face a lot tho!! So true in the office place, especially the elevator!! THE DREADED ELEVATOR!! Honestly this is where that face thrives…

    Great read πŸ™‚

  226. I’m pretty sure the wrinkles developing on either side of my lips are due to this warped custom. I intend to stop the madness immediately!

  227. You’ve said yourself that you wish the custom didn’t exist, yet if I go out of my way not to take part and then I cross paths with you—you who tries to force me to do it—I’m the “dick”? I’m sorry, but you’ve got that part back to front.

  228. The ‘sup nod is appropriate only with colleagues at or below your office caste level; it’s too informal to use on “superiors.” But I made the mistake of ‘supping my VP the other day. I think I had an excuse, as I was talking and holding something with my hands at the very moment he waved to
    me, so I couldn’t wave or verbally answer him. Curse it all, I forgot about the surprised eyebrow raise! So I ‘supped him. I’m toast.

  229. nhlgeezer says:

    aaaahahha GUILTY!!!

  230. I never knew it was a thing. I thought it was just me being the master of the fake smile and the “Please don’t talk to me” look. Glad to hear I’m not alone.

  231. ugh the obligatory smile – the business worlds survival guide to good work ethics, lol

  232. Very enjoyable read. so true πŸ˜€

  233. I hate this smile! Not ’cause of other people, but because I’m always doing it. Due to my shyness, my facial muscles start to tighten up, and my smile turns into the awkward grimace that you mentioned. I want work on changing this because if someone does something really courteous for me, I don’t want to come off as being conceited. XD

  234. Nice post! I once wrote one myself on “walking hellos”, the phenomenon of wondering if you should say hello to people that you meet while walking around your neighbourhood. We’re complicated beings, aren’t we? πŸ™‚


  235. Awkward, forced smiles are often aided by vaseline, I hear.. These courtesy smiles are much like small talk: it’s a way of acknowledging someone without committing too much of your time and effort. Sometimes, I feel I rather avoid that direct eye contact or at least not hold the eye contact TOO long if it means I’m going to just say or do something empty. Still, there’s always the folks that stare at you and, when you acknowledge them, they act as if YOU initiated the awkwardness.. The courtesy smile is a great ice-breaker in such scenarios.

    Interestingly enough, I wrote a book about this and other silly social rituals. It’s part of my new series on authenticity. You can buy your copy for only $49.95 .. J/K!

    This was a fun read. Now I feel compelled to check out more of your blog, thanks to WordPress and it’s random featured blogs. 8)

  236. That obligatory courtesy smile that you’re talking about is one of the most awkward things I have been giving and receiving. It’s like you don’t want to be too friendly, but you don’t want to be too snobby too.

  237. I’m new to blogging and this post really caught my eye! I work with someone who gives this “smile” every day – I’d rather see no smile at all… So fake and awkward… Thanks for the laugh!

  238. Wuz-up! You R Freshly Pressed, congrats.
    I have friends who KNOW me and ask how’s it going, just in passing.
    I want to scream still unemployed for almost 3 years and financially destitute. How do you think it’s going!? (All true)
    But do they really want to know at that moment? Doubtful, that’s the farthest thing from their mind. Some times I do say hanging on by my fingernails…they say good, good. NO IT’S NOT!
    Just say Hi and keep walking if you don’t want an answer to a question.

  239. If you want a load of other awkward things we just do, just join an asd (autism spectrum disorder or aspergers) forum and ask the same question. They are the ones who are usually socially awkward or socially challenged or the ones who won’t look you in the eye. They aren’t handicapped, their braines are just wired differently and they go by what is logical and practical so giving strange grins or asking how someone is for no reason is just plan silly to them along with many other things us neurotypical people do on a regular basis. It is actually draining for them to be out in public for long cause in order to seem what we call normal they have to work extra hard to do the everyday oddities. Where we learn it and do it with out thinking they have to memorize it an do it deliberately every frekin time. That’s the reason many of them have “melt downs”. When you see those annoying kids at the story screaming their heads off, it’s not always a spoiled brat, it’s sometimes a asd kid that has been out to long and gotten way over worked in the brain area and having a melt down.

  240. I always picture this πŸ™‚ emoticon as a courtesy smile. Looks like a fine smile which saying at the same time “I respect you but I don’t know what else to say and actually I don’t really want to talk”

  241. I just remembered an episode of Seinfeld. There is one common habit practiced usually in offices. Whenever you pass someone you call them by different nick names, for e.g. Jack would become…Jackie..or Jacko.

  242. novelfish says:

    Smile if you genuinely want to, otherwise just come up with a frown. I don’t like a fake smile and I know one when I see it. People are brought up nowadays in a society that demands courtesy, etiquette and respect. From young, parents try to bring their children up to be well-liked and responsible individuals. With words like “remember to greet your aunt when we get to her house”, “say thank you to uncle” or “don’t forget to smile and thank him for the gifts” etched in our minds. Doing what seems to be courteous and respectful soon becomes a habit, and I’m not saying this is a bad thing. Unfortunately, for some people, this gets so habitual that you just simply put on a smile or mumble some greeting messages in a complete lack of sincerity when you meet someone.
    Should we then be more conscious of our actions in this fast-paced society?

  243. Haha, that picture is so true. I used to do it to my flatmate everyday!

  244. Agreed..!!

  245. What I really, really hate is when someone, especially a stranger, TELLS me to smile. “Smile! It’s not so bad!” Don’t these people know that they’re completely enraging me?

  246. Wow this has a lot of replies!
    Hilarious post! I really hate things like this too.. I hate it more when people totally ignore you though…
    I’m one of those people that gives a massive toothy smile to people I want past and make my eyes all wide in order to force them to acknowledge me back!

    Human’s are so funny!
    Congrats on fresh pressed!


  247. piyamari says:

    Exactly! Nowadays, “How are you?” is considered a rhetorical question already. And when you ask people seriously, they still get uncomfortable thinking that you’re invading their privacy already or something just by asking.

  248. It’s funny though, I live in Prague and in the culture here, the polite nod-and-smile or “how are you today?” niceties are dispensed with and the result on this misplaced American is that folks just seem grumpier and less friendly. I know fake smiles and “how are you?” questions from people who couldn’t care less can get annoying, but the alternative ain’t that nice either. I’d take smiles over scowls any day!

  249. Our brains are very good at making our bodies behave in a way that gives away what we are really feeling. Flattened, tight lips are difficult to talk through – try it. Love Kevin’s demo – nice one

  250. Never really thought about it this way. I just tend to get nervous because I second guess exactly what it is that I should do when passing by someone especially if that person is not quite one of my favs. This is an excellent point, and I too am glad that we no longer have to curtsy, bow, or tip are hats. Although, there is something to be said about just having common courtesy.

  251. Haha, this is so true! I usually say hi either way, stopping to chat or not. If I don’t wanna talk I just speed up after saying hi, it’s better than that weird smile anyways πŸ˜›

  252. Here in Pakistan, it’s something more than merely a smile. It’s a greeting that Muslims usually use, “Assalam-o-Alaikum!”
    And if you don’t respond with a “Walekum Assalam” you are considered an uncultured moron. Haha!

  253. A smile is the best reaction most of the times!

  254. haha. Great blog. Funny because it’s so true.

  255. Good stuff, Zoe. What do we do when we accidentally spit in someone’s face? Recognize the incident or…

  256. I don’t mind giving proper smiles. I think better an awkward smile than nothing. I guess it depends on if you like interaction or if you don’t.

  257. Hilarious!

  258. I think that is so funny in one way, but so sad in another. How sad that in this day and age when we have gadgets that do everything we need in 2.5 seconds or less, affording us more spare time, we can’t even take that much time to sincerely greet someone and inquire as to how they are really doing!?

  259. Lovely weather we’re having, or “Good Day to you,” are stemming from England, and those were the polite ways to greet people you passed by on the village streets that you weren’t familiar with! Do that today passing by on the city streets and you’re likely to get shot!!!!!?????

  260. The “Hello how are you?” It is an automatic reply because goodness knows you could care less how someone is doing, especially a stranger.

  261. Yeah its very true.. In today’s world were everyone is busy with their own life,trying to reach the highest level financially they forget some courtesies,like a smile which can bring happiness to many..

  262. The picture makes this post – so true!

  263. Smiling is universal, no doubt, but it is also cultural. Filipinos also do the flattening of the lips, but this is rare. We almost always smile ear to ear. But we don’t say, “Lovely day!” We just say “hello” or “good morning,” etc. For me, it’s best not to smile at all if you don’t feel like it. We humans are experts in figuring out nuances.

  264. I think I have already done this 10 times this morning. Oops.

  265. Zoe, This is the second time that you have been Freshly Pressed right? And look at all of the comments that you have gotten. What is up with you girl? What is your secret to being noticed like this?

    • Hi Jessica, this is my third time, actually! I’m in shock, too. The first was a holiday post back in November 2010, another in May of this year, and now this one. I think it’s just being consistent with my posts and whether I knew it or not, adhering to WP’s guidelines on what they look for when picking out posts to highlight. The night before this one got picked up, I thought, “Maybe they’ll like my Netflix post,” because it is a current event and rather in-depth. Then the next day I saw they had picked out this little humorous post I hadn’t given two thoughts about except to amuse myself!

  266. We call that smile a “half-smile” or an “indifferent smile.” Funny post and so very, very true!

  267. LOL Agreed. This is why I don’t do that smile anymore, I just pretend I didn’t see them. I don’t think it’s any better though haha πŸ˜›

  268. For people who just ignore you when they pass, one should go on back and pass by them again just to piss them off or to amuse yourself.

  269. For people who just ignore you when they pass, one should go on back and pass by them again just to piss them off(to mess with them) or to amuse yourself.

  270. This post make me chuckle out loud!

  271. Still a nice little gesture. You acknowledge the other person’s presence. It’s better than blanking them altogether.

    • Right, I think the most awkward thing one can do is make eye contact and do nothing. It’s just a little off-putting. It’s different if someone doesn’t make eye contact – at least you know s/he’s not interested.

  272. I just created a circle in Google+ for those in my social circles who give me such weird expressions. I call it “weirdos”. It’s a good way to remember and i give it back to them with full compliments πŸ™‚

  273. So I have been more aware of my greeting smile sense I read your article the other day. I have realized that “The Grimace” happens more often than I thought it did. Fail me.

    • Haha, no worries, you aren’t the first person to come back and tell me that you find yourself doing it way more often than you might have thought! I don’t personally consider it a fail so much as just silly, but self-awareness is never a bad thing. Even I have been trying to give people more genuine greetings. If I don’t have time for a brilliant smile, at least a perky, “Hi!” will take its place. No failures here, Liz! πŸ™‚

  274. Nice Zoe!! Totally hate the fake smile too!

  275. Nishikant says:

    I’m an optimist. I see it as a smile “half-full” than a smile half-empty πŸ˜‰ and so sometimes, i “optimistically” smile at people πŸ™‚

  276. Mariajose says:

    I read this post the day it was Freshly Pressed and laughed as I read it because I work in the Front Desk of one of the hospitals in Coral Gables, FL. I am pretty much forced to do this every day I’m at work. Lately, I haven’t been working in the Front Desk as I’m filling in for someone in Pathology in the 3rd floor. This causes me to come in through the main entrance, go down the hallway to clock in, go back down the hallway to take the elevator to the 3rd floor, walk past a nurses station and the Surgery front desk and down a little hallway to my office. At 8:30 in the morning, I am forced to smile and say Good morning to everyone. It’s not a bad thing, but sometimes you say Good morning to people you have never met. But its pretty much a routine.
    So I didn’t comment that day but the next day, I laughed as I went down that hallway and repeated my route again because all I could think of was of this post and how you talked about that courtesy smile.
    Definitely worth looking back through the Freshly Pressed articles to find yours again.
    Great post!

    • Thanks Maria! You provided a great visual. Every time I read about someone else’s stories, I do the “smile” to myself. Whether you know it or not, I am sure you are brightening people’s days when you are smiling and saying good morning to them!

  277. Oh my goodness, I found this so funny, because I was just considering this very thing last week. I work in an office, and often pass by the same people multiple times throughout the day. The first pass-by is most often accompanied by a genuine “Hi! How are you? Busy today?”, which then leaves an awkward emptiness to every other time I see them throughout the day. Enter obligatory courtesy smile. It’s still awkward, but not as bad as just walking past without acknowledging them.

  278. When I was in university, I gave random passing students an it’s-great-to-see-you smile, just for the heck of it. I loved seeing how they would react. Most gave me that obligatory courtesy smile you were talking about, others paused to wonder if we’d been in the same class, and a few raised their eyebrows at me. But it hardly ever failed to make me feel great, and I seldom had to fake it.

  279. You are one of those great people that I miss from my college days Patty.

  280. realanonymousgirl2011 says:

    This cracked me up! Sometimes I do it with complete strangers but in most cases where I’m passing someone I just avoid eye contact or pretend to check my phone or look at the ground.

  281. LMAO. Great post and congrats on being FP. I think it all comes down to intention.. It doesn’t always have to be superficial, but mostly it is.. I guess deep down inside we’re still connected to eachother, as much as our sanitized environments want us to just be worker bees… We’re more than bees we’re humans! I just saw this documentary called Discover The Gift and it has really opened my eyes to all the great things around me.. It’s a touch too spiritual for my liking, but this has much to offer to everyone, from any school of thought.. whether a hard-molded logic mind, or a free spirit… Really awesome documentary.. Heard of it?

    • Thanks so much! I haven’t seen Discover the Gift, I’ll have to look into that. I agree with you that it’s about intention, though the awkward smile still comes up haha.


  1. […] The obligatory courtesy smile (via Zoe Says) Posted on July 30, 2011 by mangoekiwi Humans are such funny creatures. We have all these social niceties and some of the "rules" in place are rather odd. Something I wish didn't need to exist is that weird smile – sometimes an accompanying nod – that you give to people (namely, acquaintances or office mates) where you flatten your lips and smile tightly as you pass each other by. It looks like this:

  2. […] Zoe Says] Humans are such funny creatures. We have all these social niceties and some of the […]

  3. […] The obligatory courtesy smile (via Zoe Says) Humans are such funny creatures. We have all these social niceties and some of the "rules" in place are rather odd. Something I wish didn't need to exist is that weird smile – sometimes an accompanying nod – that you give to people (namely, acquaintances or office mates) where you flatten your lips and smile tightly as you pass each other by. It looks like this:

  4. […] really don’t know what to say. I am bowled over at the response to this weekend’s featured post from Freshly Pressed. I never would have guessed that WordPress would bestow their highest honor on […]

  5. […] a great post by Zoe that touches on some of the nitty gritty my post is […]

  6. […] an online correspondence, Zoe (whose blog article “The Obligatory Courtesy Smile” inspired this post) told me, β€œOnce, a friend of mine and I were walking together down the […]

  7. […] The obligatory courtesy smile β€œHumans are such funny creatures. We have all these social niceties and some of the β€˜rules’ in place are rather odd. Something I wish didn’t need to exist is that weird smile – sometimes an accompanying…” […]

  8. […] most memorable and successful post is β€œThe Obligatory Courtesy Smile,” a hilarious post about workplace etiquette. According to Valentine’s piece, this gesture is a […]


    The obligatory courtesy smile – Zoe Says

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