Saturday, April 23, 2005

It's amazing how much Pakistan and our part of the world have in common: it's not just the fucked-up politics but even the way we smile - or the way we perceive the difference between our way of smiling and the American one...

Smile Like You Mean It - from Chapati Mystery:

[...] There are no public smiles in Lahore. Strangers greet each other with poker-face. Those above you on the social power-relational scale [clerks, traffic cops] greet you with a hostile sneer. Those below you [clerks, traffic cops] get greeted with a contemptuous sneer. There are no smiles when you complete a transaction at the store. There are no smiles when you open the door for someone. There are no smiles when you find yourself looking at the same thing or sharing the same public space. There are no smiles when you ask directions to Mall Road. We don’t even smile at our weddings [...]


All this because a dear friend visited Pakistan for the first time recently and was struck by “how very few people smile at newcomers in a welcoming gesture of cheerful unilateral acceptance? not a one. guess i never really knew just how american i am.” [quoted without permission and with apologies]. Everyone I know who came from homistan to vilayat had this run-in with the smile. Everyone I know who went from here to the old country, asked me why everyone is so grim all the time? It is an odd sign of our collective other-ness. Unsurprisingly, I am constantly reminded by my friends and relatives of how American I am [the no-accent thing is my inside joke]. I do smile at strangers. I even mean it sometimes.

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