Is Smiling Our Real American Uniqueness?

You can say many things about Americans and, trust me, people to both to us and about us.  We like to think we’re unique.  In fact, maybe we are.  But maybe not in quite as many ways as we would like to think (if we’re honest with ourselves).  **(And so, with no explanation or apologies, MommaBean pretends she didn’t simply disappear for like two months!  Dear three readers I love the fact that you will allow me to just say nothing about it…)**

In reading a very interesting article today about those “Tiger” Kids (you know, the Asian-American overachievers that Amy Chua so controversially extolled the virtues of in her book and articles on what great parents Asians are, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother).  The question posed by the author is, what becomes of these children who are taught (or bullied perhaps depending on point of view) into succeeding in school.  Can they get along in real life and how do they fare?

One observation that the article made got me thinking.  It talks about how Asians aren’t taught to smile.  Really.  It’s a common complaint about Jordan too.  We Americans think everyone always looks grumpy or downright mad.  My kids are so out-of-tune with the smiling phenomenon that when I smile and say hi to random foreigners, they ask who they are.  I explain that I don’t know them and they are eternally confused.  And it happens each time.  But me, I was brought up to smile say Hi to folks.  I don’t to most people here because they seem so uncertain how to respond (and seem to think I might mean something forward by it, which is sad for them honestly).

What I found interesting about this is the idea that people are discriminating against them because they are Asian.  Now, maybe they are.  But then again, in the examples they use, the people have very limited interpersonal skills to accompany their great test scores (college admissions) or technical skills (job promotions).  Well, welcome to the real world.  Without interpersonal skills, it doesn’t matter that you were the top of your high school class or your college valedictorian.  Those things don’t actually mean diddly-squat when you have to work on teams in the real work-a-day world.  

So, for those tiger moms out there in the US, and those Jordanian moms, and those (fill in any other country in the world because I can’t think of another one that has our unbridled enthusiasm for smiling), maybe you’d be better off teaching your child to smile than teaching them to memorize well and take tests well.  After all, test taking may get you to college, but it won’t help you get a job or a promotion.  Those school skills are done once school is.  So parents need to face the question, am I teaching my child to o well in school or to do well in life?  Clearly they aren’t the same and giving this more thought may do more than all the browbeating and Tawjihi prep sessions in the world…

Happy Smiles!

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9 thoughts on “Is Smiling Our Real American Uniqueness?

  1. I respectfully disagree and counter that smiling will get you litle more than a smile back and even then only if you are in America (but not so much these days). And I will further upset those in Chicago and NYC who could care less about saying hello back or smiling). Smile on the El or Subway and you might get (enter any number acts of violence here).. Too much kissing up doesn’t get a promotion anymore….hard work and delivering on goals is what does it. And good looks never hurts either! I am of the persuation that a well rounded person has both book smarts and street smarts (including tthe five W’s and one H when it comes to smiling). 😉 a smile back atcha!

    • Anon, if you take an understanding of when and where to smile as a culturally appropriate thing, then those who come from cultures that never do will be missing that as well, no? It will, in fact, make them appear (and be) less able to work as part of a team if their teammates think they are always mad or upset or unengaged. So, in fact, we’re not in disagreement. But even if New York and Chicago are less than friendly, most of the US smiles most of the time… At least most of the US that I’ve encountered.

  2. welcome back and happy new year to you and your family. Smiling is not necessaray in Jordan but it is essntial character for those of us living in the States. Your kids know better and that is why they question you when you greet and smile to random people in Amman. It may be a sad truth but the Jordanian culture is not conducive to smiling, in some instances smiling could end up being reprehensible especially if you smile to someone working with the authorities.

    • Good to see that the Muslim community is working to go beyond home cultures and ensure that the next generation is able to find their way through the cultural mine field that is the American workplace ;). Smile indeed.

      • Good to hear. I hope they’ll gain more sway than the other type who seem to be so prominent in many areas. Sigh. And glad you have encouragement available near you ;).

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