By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
Hold it. Smile! Alert reader C.O. tossed some links on smiling my way, no doubt in response to my constant grousing about people being told to take off their masks “because we want to see your smile.” I cannot recall such a combination of hoity-toity disparagement and society-wide officiousness in my lifetime, unless it be against long hair when Hippies were a thing (and no matter what some might have thought at the time, hairstyles aren’t a life or death choice). Leveraging the smile against masks is cultural phenomenon I haven’t seen anyone tackle — perhaps because the opinion-havers among the PMC are themselves anti-maskers? — so I thought I would try. I need not rehearse the many examples I have already given in Water Cooler under the “maskstravaganza” heading, but here’s a new one:
I am so f#cking done with the @UnitedAirlines boarding announcement “don’t wear a mask we want to see your smile”. CO2 levels over 4000 during boarding. My mask isn’t hiding a smile. #1Klife
— Daniel Shoskes (@dshoskes) May 21, 2022
Maybe I’d be smiling more if my knees weren’t jammed up under my chin because of the size of the seats, idk. And if I weren’t at risk of infection. In any case, this post will inquire into two
ugly power trips social functions of smiling: As a class marker, and as a sign of submission. Between the two, I will take a brief detour, in order to point out that both social functions are an example of what Bourdieu would call a “classification struggle.”
The Smile as a Class Marker
As is well-known, teeth are a class marker. The working class is far more likely to have bad teeth. Even the CDC understands this. From “Disparities in Oral Health“:
About 40% of adults with low-income or no private health insurance have untreated cavities. Low-income or uninsured adults are with higher incomes or private insurance.
Studies confirm. From BMC Oral Health, “Use of oral health care services in the United States: unequal, inequitable—a cross-sectional study“:
After need-standardization, than those with the lowest education and income, respectively.
From Bloomberg, “America’s Great Dental Divide“:
Income is key, as the Gallup-Healthways study surmised. People see a dentist more frequently in higher-income states. The correlation between the two is considerable (.66). But income is not the only factor to play a role. Using a statistical technique called partial correlation analysis, we can control for its effects and see how important other factors are. All the correlations we report below have income factored into the equation.
. They are much higher in states where a higher percentage of the workforce is employed in knowledge, professional, and creative work. (.31). The same is true of the share of college graduates, a measure of the knowledge base and human capital in a state. The correlation between dental visits and college grads is even higher (.65). On the flip side, visits to the dentist are negatively associated with the working class share of a state’s workforce (-.28).
Bad teeth mean class-based real harms. From the New York Times, “How Dental Inequality Hurts Americans“:
People with bad teeth can be stigmatized, both in social settings and in finding employment. Studies document that we make judgments about one another — including about intelligence — according to the aesthetics of teeth and mouth.
And from Deseret News, “No teeth means no job“:
Studies show bad teeth prevent otherwise qualified candidates from getting jobs or promotions. There is a social cost of going without dental care, too. Numerous studies show a strong correlation between appearance and income. Research by Daniel Hamermesh, professor of economics at the University of Texas, found that better than average looking people earn 5 to 10 percent more than average looking people, who earn 5 to 10 percent more than below average looking people. “Teeth are an important component of physical appearance,” Hamermesh said.
But income isn’t the only thing impacted by the appearance of a person’s teeth. Researchers have noted pronounced negative associations with crooked, discolored and decaying teeth. Approximately 40 percent of respondents to a 2012 study by Kelton Research said that they would not date someone with crooked teeth. And about 73 percent said that people with straight teeth are more trustworthy.
Of course, if you’re a “creative class” influencer, say, you can buy yourself good teeth. From Dissent, “The Class Politics of Teeth“:
Better-off Americans routinely pay for elective procedures ranging from teeth whitening and veneers to complete “smile makeovers” costing many thousands of dollars. Meanwhile, because of poor oral health, according to a poll conducted for the American Dental Association (ADA) in 2015.
So the demand to take off your mask “because I want to see your smile” is a demand that you enable yourself to be classified by (social) class, and possibly be deemed not dateworthy, not trustworthy, and definitely not worth being hired. (Of course, this varies by context. In the airline context, I would imagine bad teeth would translate into poor service and a less-than-happy seatmate.) And now the brief interlude with Bourdieu–
From Pierre Bourdieu, Classification Struggles (2018), p. 56:
Classifications are a site of conflict…. Our starting point is the simple realization that people are engaged in a constant struggle to insult or classify each other — no need to give further examples — and that the daily struggles over classification are struggles to impose the dominant criterion…. The fact of knowing that the social world is an area of conflict allows us to question the work dof the classifier….
We see above that a demand for the modern, tooth-revealing smile allows classification by (social) class; bad teeth are a mark of being working (low) class. That’s a generalization, but the demand also takes a particular and personal form: To be classified as submissive. I would speculate that these two social functions of the modern smile are essential to ruling class elites, and that’s why they deprecate masks. (We know from Ron Klain’s interview of — really “by” — Caryle’s David Rubenstein that elites care about only two things, with Covid: Vax, and no masks.)
The Smile as a Sign of Submission
Humans are primates, and our ability to smile is a feature of being one such. From Scientific American, “How Did the “Smile” Become a Friendly Gesture in Humans?”
“Baring one’s teeth is not always a threat. In primates, showing the teeth, especially teeth held together, is almost always a sign of submission. The human smile probably has evolved from that. In the primate threat, the lips are curled back and the teeth are apart–you are ready to bite. But if the teeth are pressed together and the lips are relaxed, then clearly you are not prepared to do any damage.
I cannot find any articles to quote on “the smile as a sign of submission,” sadly. In a way, that’s revealing; one doesn’t want to reveal too much of the machinery, after all. And who doesn’t love a smile? Lacking a general theory of any sort, I will give four examples that show mask-wearers being put in a submissive position by dominating individuals operating with the anti-masking social sanction provided by our public health establishment, among others (see, e.g., Rochelle Wakensky: “The scarlet letter of this pandemic is the mask”). This doesn’t imply that those in the dominant position always dominate, or that those in the submissive position always submit, but that is the dynamic.
Example 1: A Walk-In Clinic:
BC recent walk-in clinic experience:
Told masks were no longer required because we had to balance the needs of those who need to wear them against the "mental health" needs of those who are tired of them & want to see smiles again
— chantzy 🎃 (@chantz_y) October 21, 2022
Submissive: Mask-wearing patient. Dominant: Clinic staff. Sanction: CDC Infection Control Guidelines, which are antimask.
Example 2: A Hospital:
Why on earth do they keep doing this? I (almost) get their choice not to mask appropriately themselves, but why are inadequate masks being forced on us patients? It feels like being trapped inside a fictitious dystopian narrative, only for real.
— Ailurophile (@bk_ailuros) August 23, 2022
Submissive: Mask-wearing patient. Dominant: Clinic staff. Sanction: CDC Infection Control Guidelines, which are antimask.
Example 3: Wait Staff. From Catharine A. Mackinnon, Louise Fitzgerald, The UC Berkeley Food Labor Research Center, “Take off your mask so I know how much to tip you,” The UC Berkeley Food Labor Research Center. Eesh. Awful stuff:
Many workers report a dramatic increase in sexual harassment during the pandemic, which is compounded by having to ask customers to comply with COVID-19 safety protocols. Comments by male customers indicate that they feel entitled to demand that workers remove their protective gear, exposing them to the risk of illness or death, in order to obtain the tips they need to make up their base wage.
More than 40% of workers (41%) reported that there has been a noticeable change in the frequency of unwanted sexualized comments from customers, and just over one quarter (25%) report that they have experienced or witnessed a significant change in the frequency of such sexual harassment. ❖ Nearly 250 workers shared sexualized comments from customers, a substantial portion of which were requests from male customers that female service workers remove their mask so that they could judge their looks, and, implicitly, determine their tips on that basis.
A full 43% of the women who responded to the survey said that they themselves had received or witnessed unwanted sexual comments specifically related to CoVid-19 protocols, such as masks or physical distancing. Mask comments were particularly common. For example: • I wish I could see your pretty lips if they match ur eyes
• Your mask brings out your eyes! .
• The patrons make comment about using the mask in a bedroom.
Male customers would frequntly demand that their server take off her mask, as if the woman server stripping came with the meal:
• “Take your mask off I want to see what’s underneath” is the most mild of them all.
Submissive: Mask-wearing waitstaff. Dominant: Customer. Sanction: the tipping relation, sexism.
Example 4: School Bus. From the Des Moines Register, “Johnston schools officials working with police after anti-mask flyer handed out to elementary students“:
According to an email to Beaver Creek Elementary School families Friday, a parent put the flyers in students’ backpacks at a bus stop on Thursday. With a heading of, ‘We want to see your smile,’ the flyer went on to say, “If you don’t want to wear a mask, please ask your parents to write the school board and tell them how you feel.”
Submissive: School children. Dominant: Unknown activist. Sanction: Speculating, anti-mask fervor.
So we can see not only that “Let me see your smile” allows you to be classified into (social) class, with attendant harms, it places you in a submissive position to a dominant actor. In each case, your ability to protect your own health — and the health of those around you — is compromised. Black Girl In Maine tweets:
People are really making decisions and living life as if there's not an infectious disease out there that can kill or disable them.
The next surges are going to be nasty AF.
Masking requires so little, but our selfish hearts refuse to give.
— Shay Stewart Bouley (@blackgirlinmain) October 9, 2022
I don’t know what to do about this, except to keep doing the right thing and advocating for it. A society that demands infectious behavior from its members cannot survive long; one can only hope we pull out of the nose-dive in time.
 Although the ability to smile is considered a cultural universal, actual smiles and the appropriateness of smiling differ across cultures and over time. To give a few of the nuggets I collected: Thailand (“Land of Smiles”) divides smiles into thirteen named classifications, so “Let me see your smile” could be demanded with more precision in that country than here. There is a famous story of a prime minister who, during a press conference, answered all questions only with the appropriate smile, drawn from that repertoire. (In America, we have a popular tips on smiling, but no real classification accepted society-wide.)
Eastern Europe is a different story. During an anti-corruption campaign:
Stickers with the message “A smile is the best gift to your doctor” were on almost every door at the Vilnius hospital and outpatient clinic in 2017. “Do patients continue to bring envelopes?” I asked family doctor Loreta, who also had the sticker on her office door. “Sure,” she said, confirming that she continued getting money and chocolates. “But what about the stickers,” I asked. She smiled, shook her head and recounted how one of her patients came in on the day after every TV station in Lithuania ran a report about the anti-corruption campaign: “So, the next day he comes in and gives me the box of chocolates. I say to him ‘haven’t you seen the report on TV yesterday—I cannot take anything from you.’ He went mad, ‘This is my gift to you from the bottom of my heart and none of those idiots on TV can tell me what to do—whether I can say thank you to my doctor or not! This is my gift. I never go empty-handed; I can’t. You cannot refuse, my doctor.’”… These stickers were not working, according to the doctor; smiles are not something that Eastern Europeans are known for.
Here’s an example of what I mean by a smile. From a photo taken four days before Walensky came down with Covid:
Walensky’s handwashing teambuilding session 4 days ago.
Now she’s Covid positive. pic.twitter.com/g65buAI0GY
— Pandemic News (@mildanalyst) October 22, 2022
The open-mouthed smile, showing teeth, is OK (though that was not always true; historians say originated in pre-revolutionary Paris, along with the profession of dentistry). The only person in that photo not smiling is the person holding his mask in his hand; the corners of his mouth are turned down. At best, we might call that an ironic smile, or a dry smile.
. “CORDELIA: Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave my heart into my mouth.” William Shakespeare, King Lear, Act I, Scene 1.
 From “Smile When You Say That, Partner“:
This is why many companies that depend heavily on a telemarketing sales force have mirrors installed in front of the phones, so the callers will start every call with a smile—and keep on smiling. Not surprisingly, prospects they call will envision a smiling person, because the smile adds sparkle to our vocal tones.
 This seems to be a deliverable from the Times Up project, one of the few I have seen,
SML Parody: Smile!
Obligatory. “You girls are so pretty, you should smile.”
As a registered curmudgeon I’m thoroughly enjoying the pushback against the “good vibes” and “let’s see your smile” messaging.
Yeah, moi as well.
Are we really going to leave out the classic line from the original jaws movie?
“Smile, you son of a b–ch!”
Power relations are most clear when there’s a rifle about to be fired.
A toothy grin indeed…
Just a comment on dental costs. For the first time in years, my family is without dental insurance so we are paying cash for dental care. This is in Southern California. Regular cleaning and exam is $149 and $249 with xrays. So $400/person if you follow the recommended schedule BEFORE you actually have any dental work done. We have decent teeth. but I’m still investigating dental discount plans etc. for next year.
If you are in So Cal consider becoming a dental tourist, especially if you need extensive work.
14k so far, for exam/xrays, then surgery to “surgical clean” and remove 4 wisdom and the 4 loose front bottom teeth.
plus zombie bone paste to regrow bone for potential implants.
not doable except that wife took out hefty life insurance.
i considered and researched a trip to Mexico…but had to weigh the “costs” of cartel activities, etc…as well as needing a passport, now(post 9-11).
so this experience, along with Lambert’s spotlight on the class consciousness aspects, has me noticing people’s teeth.
add in the phenomenon of “Meth Mouth” to the class aspects…and it really is like long hair used to be(i’ve had long hair for most of my adult life, as an act of resistance to that mess of stupidity)…wherein the cops assume that the toothless are meth users.
i can’t wait for late november when i get to learn how much implants or a bridge will cost.
(remember, in healthcare, there’s no price discovery without persistent wrangling and prying it out of them. no price discovery= “it ain’t a marketplace”)
Don’t know where you live, but here is a source for free health care, including dental and vision.
Remote Area Medical
I’m a semi-retired registered nurse. Before the pandemic I used to volunteer for RAM. They are great and super efficient. But it is a good idea to plan on getting to the clinic site before midnight the night before the clinic. Most people sleep in their vehicles. It doesn’t matter at all if you have identification or not, everyone is welcome.
I wonder if the 3M Auras can tolerate Sharpie on the middle segment. The thought occurs to decorate mine with
“You don’t want to see my scowl”
I wish I could tell you how many times I have thought of this as well. I mean every place I go I want to put some design on them, but I always think that if the design ruins the filtering, then it’s obviously not worth it.
> don’t know what to do about this, except to keep doing the right thing and advocating for it. A society that demands infectious behavior from its members cannot survive long; one can only hope we pull out of the nose-dive in time.
I’m still giving away N95s as opportunity arises, and wearing them whenever I might find myself sharing air, but I’m also avoiding people whenever possible. If my neighbors are determined to be objectively antisocial, I’ll reciprocate superficially (albeit in objectively pro-social ways)
– Dwight Schrute
As a sign of submission is discussed in The Definitive Book of Body Language. There’s a ton of references in the back, but not by chapter sadly so I have no easy way to find study from this.
Great stuff Lambert. In my case old acquaintances thought I looked healthier when I got dentures.
Re: the maskcharade – our local baristas learned to smile with their eyes when I come in. The eyes can’t lie like a phony smile.
We do seem to be living in a tooth obsessed age. Reading Mary Alinder’s biography of her former boss Ansel Adams I learned that he he had all his teeth extracted at an early age because they hurt him when hiking at high altitudes. Allegedly Clark Gable always wore dentures because of an early bout of gum disease. Doubtless there are many other examples among the last century’s famous and that was a time of much less stigma about such things. Now, per above, teeth are a class marker–perhaps in part because the famous and powerful now all want to be on TV. They are ready for their closeup Mr. DeMille. And how.
I like the “I hate wearing it, but I tested positive for Monkeypox yesterday” response.
That is a good one!
My late mother remarked that the first thing she noticed about someone was their teeth. I’ ve always noticed someone’s eyes because it’s hard to fake feelings with them. Personally I think smiling is cultural. We are surrounded by so much advertising where people are always smiling (especially drug commercials – everything really). I once read where Russians don’t smile at each other is because it’s seen as aggressive. (Correct me if I’m wrong).
In my youth men would would walk up to me and say — you need to smile. Who the hell walks around smiling. Very annoying. There is something I really can’t stand about Biden (among other things) is his big teeth. Seeing them makes me want to smack him.
Not sure about aggression, but I’ve always appreciated the Russian saying “Only idiots and children smile at strangers.”
Some dogs show submissive smiles.
Chesapeake Bay Retrieves often show submissive smile…teeth together, no threatening mouth movement.
Saw this myself. First time I saw it she was showing it to her elder aggressive brother, a Chow. I couldn’t believe it, I thought she was threatening him. He knew better.
She frequently greeted us with her smile when we came home. It was very affecting. And she was a mixed breed CBR.
Don’t know how she learned it, but other CBRs are know for this smile.
So it’s not only primates.
But I guess dogs are primate adjacent.
Can anyone else confirm actually hearing an in flight announcement telling people not to wear masks? And what was the airline?
I have not heard an announcement expressly telling people not to wear masks, but it is now a standard announcement to say they are so glad to be able to see your smile on Delta.
I’m not disagreeing with the analysis here, but I suspect that there are other reasons for the government and the CDC to be so anti-mask. Quite simply, facial recognition technology. I remember when the pandemic started and everybody was supposed to wear masks, I thought, “Gee, how are they going to track people everywhere they go now?”. It’s not necessarily that they want to see you smile, they want to see everywhere you go!
I’m happy to say that the Uruguayans are not a smiley people. When we pass strangers on the street, we do not smile, we do not say hi, we don’t even look at each other. People here believe very much in minding their own business. The wait staff in restaurants and retail do not “perform cheerfulness” either. I find it refreshing and I’ve become quite accustomed to it.
I was on vacation in June and July in Mexico and Guatemala and I estimate about 70% of the locals wore masks on the street. Very few people in Uruguay wear masks outside of hospitals and government buildings, and I saw almost no masking in Belize.
I missed the Uruguayan custom of relaxed non-friendliness very much while I was in Belize, where it appeared that being happy is very much required. I think that’s a Caribbean thing
Empty eyes and a phony smile immediately set me on edge– I inherently feel it’s an expression of contempt or aggression… Northern/Eastern European parent and grandparents btw, but not sure that culture has anything to do with it– maybe more to do with the dishonesty.
It’s not that I don’t wish to smile, I’m just not faking it or giving them away for nothing: earn it. And hopefully it’s a two-way street.
i am truly sorry to hear of your sorrow.
Self imposed sorrow.
I could mask forever. I hope I don’t have to. I hope there’ll be a sterilizing vaccine, and I could go back to being an occasional barfly one day. But I really don’t get the smile thing … and yes, it’s odious and stupid. So be it then … I gotta start watching the Peripheral … to get me in a Jackpot state of mind … because that’s exactly where our rancid leadership in the west is leading us.
Yes, just keep advocating.
Lots of us are. People’s CDC just put out a petition around masks in healthcare.
And there are other campaigns going on. There was a protest at the white house too.
The thing is nobody big will boost us and we’re being put in the shadows. Media won’t cover us, big shots on twitter refuse to boost these efforts (yes, even the covid aware big shots on twitter ignore us, and refuse to boost our efforts).
These people say “we need on the ground advocacy” – but when I reply their tweets with our letter campaigns and petitions and the groups that are organized and doing things – they ignore us.
We have to find each other one by one by one. Now there are many groups.
In one case a harvard guy wrote about the dropping mask regs in healthcare on twitter, someone said “who do we write to about this to stop this?” and I replied with a link to a letter campaign – harvard guy blocked me.
We’re trying as hard as we can, but the money behind the unmasking propaganda is HUGE.
The voila, sacrificial americans guy (weird acct on twitter – calls himself a “desantis democrat”)… he really called it in May 2021. He seemed to know what was coming. That they would just pretend because masks are bad for the economy they believe, because they’re a “signal” of the pandemic (ie danger).
Meanwhile, the volcano is erupting.
A mouth can produce a smile. It can also produce mirth, anger, rage, irony etc. The interesting thing is it’s the eyes that convey.
Not sure why I picked this picture:
Just another *family blog* up by the PMC?
Indeed it is the eyes that convey our expression. I can easily tell when someone who is masked smiles at me and I know they can tell when I smile because I usually get one back. Our voices too convey our expression. Many moons ago at a customer service training session, we were told to smile when we answer the phone because people can hear it in our voices. It’s true. Whole unmask and show your smile is totally ridiculous and is another confirmation of the stupid timeline in which we live.
“Our starting point is the simple realization that people are engaged in a constant struggle to insult or classify each other — no need to give further examples …”
Clueless. Says a lot about Bourdieu, his childhood and the people he hung out with, but nothing about the non-misanthrope great majority of people. One of those ‘the opposite is very likely to be true’ guys, so at least that’s helpful.
Nonsense. There is a very moving moment in
The Left Hand of DarknessThe Dispossessed where Shevek and Takver’s daughter says “You can share the handkerchief I use” (as opposed to “You may borrow my handkerchief,” which implies ownership, the planet being run by anarchists). Unstated is how proud Shevek and Takver must have been of their daughter.
You think there were no “classification struggles” to get to that point? Dream on!
In the Dispossessed… There are no daughters in The Left Hand of Darkness
Wowsers. Fifty lashes with a wet noodle for Lambert, for that gaffe!
Nonsense on stilts, if I may. What does fairleft think of the endless, constant visual classification by race that Americans engage in? In the U S of A, it goes on all day long–it is how Usonians interact with each other. All the while protesting about uniqueness of human beings.
>>>Why on earth do they keep doing this? I (almost) get their choice not to mask appropriately themselves, but why are inadequate masks being forced on us patients? It feels like being trapped inside a fictitious dystopian narrative, only for real
Why yes, yes you are!
Honestly, I can see being encouraged to smile by family and friends if I am being particularly energetic in my gloominess. Some people really are good at making everyone else miserable just with their emotional state.
But forcing employees to always smile is just a power play by jackasses. What is worse is the demand for perkiness. And demanding Stepford Wives levels of smiling pseudo cheerfulness as a requirement for a tip, is not only being a bully especially as tips are often more than the pay itself, is just creepy.
“Maggie’s Farm,” Bob Dylan
I know we have Bourdieu stans in the commentariat, so I’d be interested to know their views.
Sociologist here, with a fairly long interaction with Bourdieu’s work.
This quote comes from a book of his lectures on general sociology (which I have ordered but not read yet). These lectures came fresh on the heels of the (French) publication of his main work Distinction (1979).
Distinction deals with taste and cultural hegemony, and the quote above should be seen in that light – mask-wearing as a deviant cultural practice which the dominant culture (as expressed above as well) does not approve. The exhortation of the airlines (“we want to see your smile”) would be termed symbolic violence by Bourdieu, as it makes “everyone” accept the dominant “aesthetic”.
This in a sense is only a marker of distinction, or one could say a focal point, as not wearing a mask symbolizes a whole array of cultural and power dimensions, relating to political opinions, the value one places on science etc. This is what Bourdieu terms “cultural capital”.
So yes, the mask/smile issue is definitely a classification device but in Bourdieu’s analysis it has quite a bit more background.
> So yes, the mask/smile issue is definitely a classification device but in Bourdieu’s analysis it has quite a bit more background.
Yes, but I’m keeping it simple. I’m working my way through Classification Struggles, which is not that hard a read, and there’s a sparkling gem of insight on every page. Very exciting!
Yes, I agree – Bourdieu is very much worth reading. Although his thoughts probably have some basis in Marxist thought (it is about class, after all), he has come very far from that. Also his economic sociology (e.g. The Social Structures of the Economy) is very interesting, especially in the context of the US health care system.
Bourdieu is trying to solve the problem that Marx did not solve, and which I cannot phrase properly not having the book to hand. To approximate badly, the role of delusion in social relations. This problem, though ancient*, is very contemporary!
I think also as a practitioner of sociology, Bourdieu sees “classification struggles” as preceding, by millenia, besides being precursor to, “class” understood as “economic class.” Again, his formulation is way more elegant and precise (a better edged weapon, as it were). So — I don’t Bourdieu as immodest, but I do think he’s aware of his abilities as a scholar and theorist — his work would be foundational in a way Marx’s was not.
* See the Buddha.
Maybe our ancestors noticed than when a herd animal was non-conforming, it would be kicked to death by the herd…
In the Dispossessed… There are no daughters in The Left Hand of Darkness
A scholarly article discussing this is: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1439-0310.1992.tb00864.x
“Silent bared-teeth display is typically accompanied by evasive or submissive body movements, and occurs primarily in dyadic interactions, mainly by the lower ranking individual. It is not an unidirectional sign of a linear dominance hierarchy, though. Silent bared-teeth display is a frequent answer to aggressive behaviour shown by the receiver.”
Shay Stewart Bouley’s tweet: This is prophecy in the form of poetry:
Masking requires so little, but our selfish hearts refuse to give.
There is a certain deeply moving beauty and insight in that line–something that I don’t expect from Twitter, which consists mainly of opinion-and-assertion wars.
The combination of smiling and disdain for masking is distinctly American. I have just had visitors from the US of A to the Undisclosed Capital of the Undisclosed Region. During the week, among the three of them, they never masked–not to enter stores, not to enter museums. And we attended a brief concert in a museum–so not to attend crowded events.
One of them asserted that the NYTimes has declared the pandemic over. I had to point out that here in Undisclosed Capital, many still mask on the streets, many museum employees (including several young ones) were in masks, and that it was recommended to wear masks on trains and buses.
They assured me that they “always” wore masks on planes, which, given their behavior, has to be una menzogna.
But what would be the meaning of lies for the free?
And a reminder: Although the posting by Lambert Strether makes it more than clear, I will repeat it here. These dignitaries and photographables are the same people who want to lecture you on the evils of Putin, the glories of the free market, and the wonders of endless war, now in still another conveniently brutal episode in faraway Ukraine.
> One of them asserted that the NYTimes has declared the pandemic over. I had to point out that here in Undisclosed Capital, many still mask on the streets, many museum employees (including several young ones) were in masks, and that it was recommended to wear masks on trains and buses.
Tourists also have a hard time understand they’re guests. Would you crap on your host’s carpet? No? Well, then why is OK, unmasked, to emit a lethal pathogen?
When my spouse worked in France during the ’90’s, I had, at great personal inconvenience and sacrifice, to accompany him. I spent a great deal of time watching French television, along with eating local cheeses, fresh-baked bread, wines and the great selection of chocolate bars in the local supermarché.
The TV French did not open their mouths wide when speaking; they showed almost no teeth; they didn’t smile much. I began comparing the French news readers with the US ones. The US news casters opened their mouths wide and showed lots of teeth, when talking. (USians also use our ‘outdoor voices’ when indoors and laugh a lot, usually inappropriately.)
American teeth are ridiculous. On the opposite shore you have British teeth. It’s as if all orthodontists were killed in a V2 attack by the Nazis (hit their annual conference) and the profession never recovered.
~ The ruling class don’t just have white smiles, they have blazing white smiles bordering on the angelic. Some toothy transcendence from being merely mortal. Even as their faces age, their smiles don’t. It’s just weird looking, like dying their hair black after 70. Really? Who do they think they’re fooling? And what’s wrong with white hair? It suggests sagacity; the young know diddly-do-da.
~ Management is colluding with their customers (mostly male) in harassing the waitstaff and forcing their submission. The staff are perfectly capable of putting customers in their places, but the price will probably be their jobs. Several tart retorts occurred to me as I read this, all of them would have been used as cause for dismissal if the customers complained. Yes, there are less caustic ways of telling a guy to eff off, but they’re usually delivered with a smile to take the sting out (and keep one’s job). Most of my male customers walked in that establishment because they planned to exercise a little male naughtiness and wanted to get by with it, where they knew the consequences would far greater for me than them. Masking may have been working to level the playing field. The wait staff then weren’t strippers, just friendly servers. And everyone (well, mostly male management and male customers) want ‘business as usual’… free titties and long legs. Hooters profits for a reason; it’s not the “cuisine”.
~ I went to the store last week wearing a mask for the first time all summer. Winter is coming and this fall I didn’t get a flu shot or a booster, and have chosen a different self-directed course of medical inquiry: my blood glucose levels*. The mask got me some surprised looks but no comments. The greater look of surprise was when I pounced** on a customer from my perch just beyond check-out looking for someone who appeared to be purchasing more than $120 in groceries so I could ask them if they would like to have my $12 off anything over the $120. The answer has always been ‘Yes!’ and that time was no exception. We are talking about just $12 and it’s not my money, it’s Kroger’s 10% offer I refuse to waste cuz hard times.
Finding such a customer used to be easy. Customers started their shopping when entering at the right in produce and ended at the left in frozen foods. By then the cart was full and the math simple, and yes, they would like $12 off that bill, thank you very much. Inflation has made the math harder, now I have to stare into someone’s cart (weird!) like a human calculator (and nosy stalker) and add up the spendier items and pray for their tolerance before getting to the part about the coupon. It’s just easier to wait at check out and watch the numbers, except I’m finding fewer and fewer customers who are spending $120 and above, and of course Kroger knows this, thus the coupon carrot.
But as for their look of surprise, easily seen because they aren’t masked anymore… they’re genuinely surprised by my “generosity”. Not because I went out of my way (I was already there) and I’ve just told them I can’t use the coupon, that’s why I’m looking for someone else to use it. But because I thought of someone, anyone besides me and mine. They don’t.
The thing about tribalism as the way of the world is that it’s the default perspective when it comes to doing for others. First me, then family, then friends (family-like), and then and only then, strangers. Usually under the umbrella of an organization… pre-approved virtue-collecting and Kroger gets the points.
*Two small pieces of sourdough as the basis of sardine toast for breakfast: 201 one hour later.
** I know what I look like, I’m usually standing still and using my indoor voice. It’s just that they’re not used to being approached by masked strangers. I haven’t figured out yet how to just slip someone the coupon without addressing them first and asking permission.
I’ll smile when the airlines go bankrupt and DON’T get bailed out. But as long as they invest in politicians that will never happen.
I can’t recall anyone smiling in airports, aside from the Arrivals hall, almost.
Reminds me of a scene from the Aki Kaurismaki film where one illegal immigrant is coaching a newcomer on how to navigate the streets of Helsinki – “whatever you do don’t smile, they’ll think you’re crazy”
Really solid work Lambert, not that you need my recommendation. Re classification, it has a long evolutionary history. We evolved to value symmetry, and symmetry is associated with health. We embody an instinctive response that differentiates the healthy and the unhealthy.
American obsession with smiling ties directly into the toxic positivity in one of todays articles.
Lambert, the only thing you omitted, which as a woman is huge….we’ve asked to smile in public all the time. It’s 100% a submission thing, an attempt by a strange man, usually on the street, to force interaction with a woman and direct her to do something. In fact, I’d be curious to know the gender dynamics of who requests to see whose smiles. Bc I guarantee men are not telling other men “I want to see your smile”. General requests (clinics etc) may be different but in personal requests it’s probably always men asking women to remove their masks.