Smiling American

Why, the author asked him over the third (or was it the fourth?) bottle of wine, after midnight in the deserted dining room of the Hotel Moskva in downtown Belgrade, why, the author asked him, why are you always smiling?

He didn’t know what to say.

Why do you smile like that? Why are you constantly smiling? Why do Americans smile so much.

We learn it in school, he finally answered. It’s part of our American curriculum, he claimed.

He was unable— and this, perhaps, proved the author’s point — to respond with aggression of his own.

He had wondered about this.

Why was he so anxious to please? Why did he always express interest in the other person’s work while the other person ignored his own? Why was a smile his default response in company?

He drank his wine (the author’s choice—white wine—not his own) and pondered the author’s question while cursing the author for having asked it, for having asserted it, for having assaulted him with it.

Why did he smile so much?

He didn’t smile much when alone. He was no longer the optimistic enthusiast, the naively hopeful young man he had once been. He lived, rather, with depression. More often than with joy. Thinking that fact, he lamented the loss—and welcomed the insight.

Why then did he smile so much? The author was right, he thought. And he wished he were wrong.

Did his friend Zarko think he smiled like a silly American? Like a weakling? Like an idiot?

Did he really smile so much? Too much?

If he did, did that mean he was shallow? That he had no center, no will, no force, no purpose other than to please?

His friends (Alex, Sam, Steven, Zarko) were difficult, troublesome, cantankerous, brilliant men. Was he their friend because he smiled so much, because he put up with their assertiveness?

Was he a dog who wagged his tail in the presence of anyone who might have something for him? Was he the author’s dog?

Jebi ga! he thought. Fuck it! he thought.

And then he smiled again at the grim-faced author.

About Scott Abbott

Ph.D. in German Literature from Princeton University, 1979. Then I taught at Vanderbilt University, BYU, and Utah Valley State College. At Utah Valley University, I'm Director of the Program in Integrated Studies and former Chair of the Department of Humanities and Philosophy. My publications include a book on Freemasonry and the German Novel, two co-authored books with Zarko Radakovic (published in Serbo-Croatian in Belgrade), and translations of a book by Austrian author Peter Handke and of a catalogue of an exhibit called "The German Army and Genocide." More famously, my children are in the process of creating good lives for themselves: as a model and manager, as a teacher of Chinese language, as a watershed scientist and science writer, as a jazz musician, as a corrections officer, as university students, and as parents. I share my life with UVU historian Lyn Bennett and our yellow dog Blue. Some publications at
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One Response to Smiling American

  1. Scott Abbott says:

    scott, how often have i been told, you never smile… come you dont
    smile? you always look like you got a chip on yr shoulder….whaatz with yu?
    life’s too short to be so serious…y r too intense…how can you take being
    so gloomy? being so down…so beat…take a load off…y r shortening your
    life…a smile is such a simple thing, such a lovely thing, such an easy
    thing…it dont take any effort, it dont require too many facial
    muscels….hell, cut it out, and smile….tho your heart is
    breaking…….i must admit your blog text made me
    smile….thanks…….as ever…..alex


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