Here in America, the smile is a staple of day-to-day life. Businesses boast “service with a smile” and publicize that they are hiring “smiling faces.” In fact, the presence of a smile on an American’s face at any given time is so expected that if you don’t have one, you may be told you have RBF.
However, not every country feels the way we do about the smile. A Finnish user on the forum website Reddit recently summarized his country’s perception of the smile in this simple way: “If a stranger smiles at you on the street, he’s either drunk, insane, or American.” There is even a Russian proverb that says, loosely translated, “laughing for no reason is a sign of stupidity.”
So why is smiling in public an expectation in America, and a sign of idiocy or insanity in other countries? There are a few popular theories to explain the discrepancy.
Smiling Transcends Language
One 2015 study postulated that countries that have traditionally had a lot of immigration may be more likely to rely on nonverbal communication, such as the smile. The study polled people from 32 different countries to learn what feelings they felt were appropriate to express openly. Then, they compared those results with the diversity of nationalities in each of those countries. What they found was fascinating: Emotional expressiveness was definitely linked to the country’s diversity.
The researchers theorized that this could be due to the fact that in countries with higher immigrant populations, language barriers could prevent easy social interaction and bonding. An inability to communicate verbally with others could force residents of diverse countries to use nonverbal communication methods, such as smiling and other body language, as a crutch to use when language fails.
Also interesting were the reasons that people in each country might put on a smile: In those diverse countries that boasted higher immigrant populations, a smile was more likely to be intended to create a social bond. However, in less diverse countries, a smile could signify something more intense, like a desire for close friendship.
That explains why Americans smile so much — but does it explain why other countries smile so little? Another researcher has a guess: A 2004 study suggested that the unpredictability of the socio-economic climate of a country could correlate with a lower frequency of smiles. If you live in a country where you are uncertain about what the next day will hold, you have less confidence — and fewer reasons to smile. And here in America, we generally feel pretty good about the prospects for the future.
Do You Have an American Smile?
American smiles aren’t just known for being frequent — they’re also known for being white, straight, and glamorous. If you want that Hollywood smile that so many people associate with Americans, a cosmetic dentist can help you achieve it. Whether your teeth need straightening, whitening, or you’re looking for a complete smile makeover, an experienced cosmetic dentist can give you the smile of your dreams.