Don’t Take Offense, It’s a Cultural Thing

Poland has many things to offer but smiles are not one of them, sadly enough.

As an American always looking on the bright side and having the birth name of “Merry”, it is difficult for me not to see the glass half full with a big giant smile plastered across my face at most times during any given day.

So although Poland is fashion forward, very cosmopolitan with beautiful parks and skyscrapers, smiling is not something that you would use to describe a Pole. The Executive Director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Warsaw was even asked to present a workshop on “Why Americans Always Smile”, seems kind of silly to me yet it is noticeable as you walk down the streets of any city, town or village in Poland.

I can’t blame them. After being trampled on, destroyed and erased from the map time and time again throughout history what Pole in their right mind would want to smile?

The picture below was taken earlier in April 2017 during a march for democracy. This is the happy crowd. They all marched to show support for democracy and belonging to the EU. It can be a little intimating for someone like me, or you to be in a crowd like this. I’m yelling like a cheerleader and they are all walking calmly and quietly.

Alright so I know that my smile is a dead giveaway that I am an American, I wanted to know why that is?

In my time living and traveling abroad I have found some unique traits about people that give me an idea of where they might be from, even before they open their mouth to speak.

Poles for instance have broad almost square like foreheads. I might even go as far as to say that they have big heads. I’m not referring to big egos, I’m just talking about the circumference of their heads. They’re big! Poles also walk faster than anyone I know.

French women tend to wear neutral colored make-up never anything flashy. Their clothing is generally tailored and their accessories most often all match; like their purse, shoes and belt (if they are wearing one).

Brits are light skinned, maybe due to the weather. They like to stay with their own people and don’t seem to travel alone and if they do travel alone they don’t look about much. They always look like they have something on their mind.

As far as I go, I have several traits that make me stick out like a sore thumb. My smile is number one. Then it’s the way I dress. Even when I purchase exactly what is on the store mannequin, I just can’t pull it off the same way and people still speak to me in English even before I have opened my mouth. And next is the grey hair, that too is a dead giveaway. Just recently have older Polish women begun to let their hair go grey (I’m taking credit for starting that fashion trend), generally the color of choice for Polish women is red. Any shade of red is acceptable and believe me, there are more than you could ever imagine and…on top of that only 4% of Polish women hair naturally red hair. (I’ll leave that discussion for another post)

In 2015 Brown University conducted a study looking at general behaviors of a countries population to define where certain characteristics come from.

Strangely enough they found that countries with a high level of immigrants meant that those people tended to smile more as a way of non-verbal communication. Canada and the US are the two most diverse nations according to this study. Happy, happy people!

This could mean trouble for Canadians and Americans as they age however, because it takes 17 muscles to smile and 43 to frown. So, if Canadians and Americans smile the most that also means they are not using a lot of their facial muscles. I think that means in my next life I will come back as a Plastic Surgeon.

But the findings go deeper and get more interesting. In the countries with more immigrants, people smiled to bond socially. I think I do that. Generally, I consider myself a shy person (when I am around people I do not know) but I use my smile to see where the possible open minded people might be.

Less diverse nations believe when someone smiles at you, that person wants to be your friend, so they tend to look away. That is so not true for me, that is not why I am smiling. I don’t want to be your friend, I just can’t wipe the smile from my face. Yup, I can certainly check the American box here.

And then in countries that are more uniform and much less diverse only the superiors or those in power get to smile and this is said to maintain the delicate structure of power.

The fact I found most astonishing was that of the political figures. If we don’t smile we will vote for someone that does not smile and vice versa. The leaders’ behavior appeared to reflect the ideal emotional state of their constituents. Interesting finding in this tech savvy world, find your ideal client and mirror how they look. Voila, you’re President!

So, as you travel around the world or just down the street reflect the image that you want to see in the world. It will be reflected right back at you.

Keeping life interesting!

Merry Lynch

One thought on “Don’t Take Offense, It’s a Cultural Thing

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    Are you brave enough? - August 17, 2018

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