“This is related to the phenomenon of the Professional Smile, a national pandemic in the service industry; and noplace in my experience have I been on the receiving end of as many Professional Smiles as I am on the Nadir: maitre d’s, Chief Stewards, Hotel Managers’ minions, Cruise Director – their P.S’s all come on like switches at my approach. But also back on land at banks, restaurants, airline ticket counters, on and on. You know this smile – the strenuous contraction of circumoral fascia w/ incomplete zygomatic involvement – the smile that doesn’t quite reach the smiler’s eyes and that signifies nothing more than a calculated attempt to advance the smiler’s own interests by pretending to like the smilee. Why do employers and supervisors force professional service people to broadcast the Professional Smile? Am I the only consumer in whom high doses of such a smile produce despair?”
~ David Foster Wallace, “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,” Footnote 40
I don’t read David Foster Wallace very often, but when I do, I reread this bit about the Professional Smile, because, as a waitress, I find this perspective on being smiled at fascinating. I do a lot of smiling at work. It is, frankly, an important part of the atmosphere. And it’s weird to think that smiling at some people causes them to feel despair.
I think of this footnote while I’m waiting tables. And, thinking of this footnote, I try to smile a real smile. Not the Professional Smile – the one that clicks on and off like a light switch, the one that never reaches the eyes – but a smile that’s really-and-truly connected to joy.
That kind of smile is unrelated to circumstance. It doesn’t depend on the way people behave, or what they say, or how they say it, and it doesn’t depend on how much they tip at the end of their meal. That smile comes from the joy-down-in-my-heart – the active choice to be of good cheer.
That smile is the one in Nat King Cole’s old song (“Smile,” in case you were wondering): the one that “lights up your face with gladness.” It’s the happy thought that launches you into the sky. It’s the Patronus Charm that lets you walk among Dementors: chin-up, fearless.
A Professional Smile pretends to like the smilee. A real smile doesn’t pretend. A real smile actually likes the smilee. A real smile finds something, anything, the tiniest little thing (even if it’s simply the fact that the smilee will have to leave at some point) to like.
Real smiles have power. Real smiles are like the dawn of the fifth day at Helm’s Deep, when the sun breaks over the hilltop, and Gandalf and Shadowfax and the Riders of Rohan rush into the valley and send the Uruk-hai packing.
Don’t smile a Professional Smile.
Use your power.
Make it real.