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

I received my Ph.D. in German Literature from Princeton University in 1979. Then I taught at Vanderbilt University, BYU, and Utah Valley State College. At Utah Valley University, I directed the Program in Integrated Studies for its initial 13 years and was also Chair of the Department of Humanities and Philosophy for three years. My publications include a book on Freemasonry and the German Novel, two co-authored books with Zarko Radakovic (REPETITIONS and VAMPIRES & A REASONABLE DICTIONARY, published in Serbo-Croatian in Belgrade and in English with Punctum Books), a book with Sam Rushforth (WILD RIDES AND WILDFLOWERS, Torrey House Press), a "fraternal meditation" called IMMORTAL FOR QUITE SOME TIME (University of Utah Press), and translations of three books by Austrian author Peter Handke, of an exhibition catalogue called "The German Army and Genocide," and, with Dan Fairbanks, of Gregor Mendel's important paper on hybridity in peas. More famously, my children are in the process of creating good lives for themselves: as a model and dance/yoga studio manager, as a teacher of Chinese language, as an ecologist and science writer, as a jazz musician, as a parole officer, as a contractor, as a seasonal worker (Alaska and Park City, Utah), and as parents. I share my life with UVU historian Lyn Bennett, with whom I have written a cultural history of barbed wire -- THE PERFECT FENCE (Texas A&M University Press). Some publications at
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1 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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