December 13, 2005

THANK YOU, SIR, MAY I HAVE ANOTHER (via Brian Boys):

National Smiles (D.T. MAX, 12/11/05, NY Times Magazine)

Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology at the University of California at Berkeley, contends that Americans and the English smile differently. On this side of the Atlantic, we simply draw the corners of our lips up, showing our upper teeth. Think Julia Roberts or the gracefully aged Robert Redford. "I think Tom Cruise has a terrific American smile," Keltner, who specializes in the cultural meaning of emotions, says. In England, they draw the lips back as well as up, showing their lower teeth. The English smile can be mistaken for a suppressed grimace or a request to wipe that stupid smile off your face. Think headwaiter at a restaurant when your MasterCard seems tapped out, or Prince Charles anytime.

Keltner hit upon this difference in national smiles by accident. He was studying teasing in American fraternity houses and found that low-status frat members, when they were teased, smiled using the risorius muscle - a facial muscle that pulls the lips sideways - as well as the zygomatic major, which lifts up the lips. It resulted in a sickly smile that said, in effect, I understand you must paddle me, brother, but not too hard, please. Several years later, Keltner went to England on sabbatical and noticed that the English had a peculiar deferential smile that reminded him of those he had seen among the junior American frat members. Like the frat brothers', the English smile telegraphed an acknowledgment of hierarchy rather than just expressing pleasure.

"What the deferential smile says is, 'I respect what you're thinking of me and am shaping my behavior accordingly,"' Keltner says.


No wonder they favor life in jail.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 13, 2005 6:53 PM
Comments

On this side of the Atlantic, we simply draw the corners of our lips up, showing our upper teeth. Think Julia Roberts or the gracefully aged Robert Redford. "I think Tom Cruise has a terrific American smile," Keltner, who specializes in the cultural meaning of emotions, says. In England, they draw the lips back as well as up, showing their lower teeth

And in Canada, we draw back our upper, lower, and corner lips until it hurts and eventually someone tells us how nice we are. Then we relax and go curling.

Posted by: Peter B at December 13, 2005 7:36 PM

Grad students and non-tenured professor have "the smile" as well.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at December 13, 2005 7:53 PM

I think this is pretty much true for all of Europe, where folks speak with a more closed (clenched) mouth than in the Americas. Most striking is perhaps the difference between the Portugese-speakers of Rio and Lisbon. And you can speak Madrid Castillian without every parting your teeth.

Posted by: Jorge Curioso at December 13, 2005 9:08 PM

Correction - the Brits FAVOUR life in jail.

Posted by: obc at December 13, 2005 9:14 PM

I say we bring back the tug of the forelock.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at December 13, 2005 9:20 PM

What do the Brits have to smile about?

Posted by: sam at December 13, 2005 10:13 PM

Their world-famous dentistry!

Posted by: obc at December 13, 2005 11:46 PM

"And you can speak Madrid Castillian without every parting your teeth."

Not true! You have to part the teeth just enough to get the tongue between them for the Castillian lisp.

Posted by: H.D. Miller at December 13, 2005 11:52 PM

> Not true! You have to part the teeth just enough to get the tongue between them for the Castillian lisp.

That lisp is done with the tongue at the back of the teeth, not between them. Parting is optional.

Posted by: Jorge Curioso at December 14, 2005 7:53 AM

Peter B. Thanks. Best laugh yet today!

Posted by: erp at December 14, 2005 11:52 AM
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