What Should You Say When Strangers Tell You To Smile?

I tell them I’m going to a funeral. I try to let some tears well up in my eyes a little bit. And then they go away, mortified, and I’m pretty sure that they’ll never, ever do it again.

I do this because I hate being told to do things by strangers. And it always sort of astonishes me the number of people who – while you’re walking around, contemplating the nature of Schopenhauer’s pessimism – will interrupt your reverie by exclaiming “smile!” Who are you, stranger? Who are you? The smile police? Fuck the smile police.

“Cheer up” is also popular. But I am not necessarily feeling cheerful at that moment. You want me to cheer up? It means that much to you? Pass me a $10 bill. You won’t even have to say anything, I’ll smile for that. Or, you know, a vodka bottle. Or diamonds! Pass me a fistful of diamonds and a gold bar! But people shouldn’t have to do things just because you demand it, without you putting in any effort whatsoever.

Other popular office responses include:

Eat a dick, scumbag. (Smile while you say it).

Smiling makes me look fat.

I’m going to jump off the Empire State building

Wait- I am smiling,I just got botox OH MY GOD I CAN”T MOVE MY FACE! HELP! HELP ME!

Your mom should smile

Please, feel free to contribute your own.

Share This Post:
    • MNiM

      Miss Manners suggests asking: “Why? Did you say something amusing?”


      • Emily

        At usual, she has the most fabulous answer possible.

    • Aj

      OMG, thank you so much for this post!!! That’s one of my biggest pet peeves.

    • modernlover

      I always go with an exasperated, “Oh, go fuck yourself.” Uninspired, yet effective.

    • G

      I grimace.

    • Me

      I told one guy to go F himself. I hate it when clueless men tell me to smile.

    • Lisa

      ok reading this made me smile cause I get that shit all the time and you totally verbalized how I feel when people do that shit. Next time someone does that to me i’m going with the hand me $10.
      I always feel the best response was Dr frankenfurter(spell?) smiling makes my face hurt. Thanks for a great post and the smile

    • Victoria

      I usually just smile at the person as creepily as possible until they get weirded out and leave. I remember one time I was at Wendy’s waiting in line for my food, looking horrified as flies flew around the french fry frier, and the manager walked up to me and said “Smile, what do you have to be so upset over on a beautiful day like this?” and I was like “How about clean your nasty resteraunt and I won’t be so worried about getting malaria that I frown?” and he just frowned and walked away. (I almost said “SMILE!!!” but I decided that I wasn’t a prick like him.)

    • Lis

      Tell them you have a chronic illness that causes you constant pain. (Extra points if it’s actually true!)
      Most people really don’t have a comeback to that!

    • Em

      im PMS’ing, go away

    • K.

      I know!!! I just look at them without changing my facial expression (which I’ve been told, looks intense). They disperse quickly. :)

    • Soos

      Thanks. I’m gonna use the funeral answer.

    • Sara

      The last time a co-worker told me to smile I flipped him off. He laughed. Moron.

    • Patty

      When it happens at work, I say, “I don’t get paid to smile.” Otherwise, I just ask them, “Why?” It’s also ridiculously sexist. No one ever tells men to smile. And women don’t tell other women to smile. Meaning. . . this is nearly exclusively men telling women to smile. As if we’re of no use if we’re not pretty and smiling. ARGH!

      • Cori

        I’m told to smile most often by old (60+ years) men & women. I want to tell them I’d smile more if I knew I was as close to death as they are, but I don’t have it in me to feel bad about it later.

    • MelyClaire

      the epic, “GO FUCK YOURSELF”

      • yoj

        I used that one today

    • Jessica Pauline Ogilvie

      the sad thing is that EVERYONE knows what you’re talking about. why are we constantly being told to smile? are we really expected to walk around in a constant state of moronic, meaningless joy?

      anyway, someone told me to smile over the weekend (at the time, per usual, i did not realize that i looked so miserable) and i just said, “oh, come on now. don’t say that.” which felt sort of good because really, i do think people should know better than to say things that remarkably idiotic. he laughed, which leaves me with absolutely no idea if he knew what i was talking about or not.

    • Hannah Rose Siegel

      A club promoter outside Penn Station recently told me to “Cheer up and smile, sweetheart.” I responded, “Get a real job” and gave him the finger.

    • lynn

      You all sound like incredibly ridiculous and bitter people… It’s true there are moments when the world is against you, but life is hard. It’s full of problems. These people who try their best to share a bit of their happiness to help you dont need your shit. If anything, you should simply thank the person due and continue on your way. You don’t even need to smile, just show some appreciation. Goodness.

      • The Cat Who Walks

        You sound so hopeful and naive. And either soccermom-ish or small town, I can’t quite figure it out. But anyway, no. I don’t need the shit of some guy telling me to smile (and it usually is a guy) when I am not having a smiley moment. They aren’t trying to “share a bit of happiness”, usually it’s more leering, harassing and/or condescending than any actual concern about my happiness.

    • Jessica Poolt

      Flashback to the day I had gone to the school health clinic, then the beth-israel medical center for chest x-rays, was diagnosed with pneumonia, took a packed LIRR train back home and as soon as I got off the train had some old guy in my face saying “Such a pretty face. Why don’t you SMILLLLE.” Had I any strength I would’ve decked him. People should really learn to mind their own business.

    • Teenie

      I also get this. I don’t think this happens to men, amirite? It’s like as women, we are expected to be the glowing hostess to the world, and if we’re not smiling and being gracious, well then, someone needs to tell us to cheer up so we can regain our poise? ok, I’m sure there’s an element of my mother’s intense feminism there, but really – have you ever heard a man be told to “smile” by a complete stranger? NO!

      • http://pockasqueeno.tumblr.com/ Nick Buttler

        Nope, not true at all. I’m a dude, and I’ve been told to smile more times than I’d care to count. Not by complete strangers, mind you, but often by acquaintances. Thankfully, my close friends and family know that I only smile when I’m amused, not on command. There is this one lady in my dance group that would always say, “You should smile when you dance! Aren’t you having a good time?” I usually would respond with something like, “Of course I am, but I’m thinking about what move I’m going to do next and not dropping you on the floor, not on my facial expression.”

        I don’t dance with her anymore.

    • whitters

      ”smile love, it might never happen”
      ”it just did”…..oh pmt you never fail me

    • Heidi

      I have these:

      “Looks like somebody got FUCKED last night!”
      “My religion forbids me to.”
      “I don’t know how to.”

    • Meeee

      OMG, the funeral response is the best. ever. I am going to use that from now on, and then say something incredibly rude (involving expletives).

    • I hate this nonsense, too.

      “My dog was run over last night. I had to scrape her up off the pavement. I couldn’t just leave her there, ya know? We’re going to hold a funeral tonight. In the mean time, maybe you can smile for me.”

    • Alysha

      I stare them straight in the eye and tell them no you smile.

    • FrowningMalibuBarbie

      It happens to me all the time, always by men, and I I am not usually in a bad mood. I’m a fairly happy person. I just happen to have a serious expression on my face because, yeah, I’m thinking about my grocery list or something as I am walking down the street. But what if my father just died? What is I am sad? What if, omg! I don’t fucking feel like smiling? Is that a problem? The men who think they are ‘cheering me up’ by telling me to pick my smile up off the floor, I really have come to the conclusion that what they are really saying is that I should be happy. All the time. Like a Barbie Doll still strapped in her little box. (bythwy, why the excessive strappage for Barbie. Its not like she was going to break loose or something. Creepy) Ugh, the ‘such the pretty girl, why aren’t you smiling’ comments are the worst. If I’m feeling polite, I say, “I don’t smile on command.” If I am not, I say, “fuck off,” over my shoulder as I am walking past them. If I feel like doing a public service to every other woman not walking around with a daft smile plastered all over her face, I stop and ask them, “what would you say if I told you I am coming from the hospital and my father just passed away?”

    • isis1moon

      i have two responses waiting in the wings. the first, imposed mortification: i just learned on my way to work that (insert some close relative who doesn’t exist) has stage four cancer and since we don’t have the coverage i have to be here. second, a little education: go into some diatribe/analysis on gender roles and the expectations placed on women to be nice/friendly/smiley a.k.a submissive (alternative: “bitch”) due to a male dominated social power structure and women’s secondary status.

    • Blerg

      There ARE bigger battles. It’s not about that.Does it warrant a post? Absolutely; We’re human, and our behavioral patterns are important. And, if you were not curious/annoyed by it, why are you here? In the comments? It’s about having manners. Trust me, “spreading happiness” by telling someone you don’t know to smile, is not the way. Sometimes people are not even aware of their facial expression. It’s not your place to tell them what you want them to do with their face. No one goes around smiling all the time. Next time, make eye contact, and smile at the person (lead by example), say hello, nod, whatever. If they don’t do it back, well then, let them live their own life. Your input, trust me, has ZERO impact on them. Most of the people who tell me to smile, are never themselves smiling. It’s hypocritical.

    • Constance Chapman

      I usually just look at them, never speaking or changing my expression. They usually get freaked out thinking I’m going to kill their family and go away. ha ha