Miss Manners by Judith Martin, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin

Request to Be Cheery Can Be Met With Weak Smile

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I would consider myself to be a good-humored, cheerful sort of person and enjoy smiling when I have cause to smile.

However, when I am intensely focused on accomplishing something difficult (either mentally or physically), I apparently fail to smile, which seems to be a sin in our society. This causes my fellow citizens (no doubt civic-minded) to admonish me to smile, accompanied by a perky smile of their own, which I admit to finding irksome in the extreme.

Could you offer advice on how to respond appropriately, particularly when said admonishment is issued in front of a group? I find if I ignore it, the admonishment continues, but fear a direct rejection of the order might "create a scene" (of which I have a near British-level aversion). And thus I typically comply with a weak smile, which ends the situation but invariably leaves me in a foul mood and, I fear, bit by bit, slowly destroys my soul.

GENTLE READER: You had Miss Manners' sympathy that such admonitions are rude, and diminish rather than increase the level of civic concord. And you had her agreement on the weak smile as the correct response -- up to the point where you suggested that a courteous reply would have unfortunate, and possibly eternal, consequences.

The hope in giving a weak smile (moving the mouth only slightly while the eyes simply stare) is that it will, over time, discourage your fellow citizens from repeating their behavior when they see it is unwelcome. It will not put a sudden and dramatic stop to that behavior. But responses that would create significantly more civic discord, if they do not carry jail time, should be avoided.