One of the problems contemporary American society has, as a whole, is a need to be liked and seen as nice and agreeable and “all around good people.” By everybody, I mean from neighbors to co-workers to total strangers. And achieving this end—or achieving the self-delusion of accomplishing this end—means becoming an expert at grinning noncommittally, a ninja-master of quick, easy smiles that signal casual acknowledgement and anonymous comradeship.
Anyone can practice this in their bathroom mirror, and it seems easy enough in theory, but practice is a totally different story; in the field, nuance and timing are key, and could mean the difference between a few seconds of friendly non-verbal contact with somebody you’re stuck next to on the bus and that person talking your ear inside out when what you really wanted to do was zone out on Zomes’ Earth Grid while staring at a ceiling advertisement until you couldn’t read it any longer. Below are a few suggestions on how to make the noncommittal grin work for you.
• Don’t nod when you grin—and by this I mean the traditional nod, the nostril flaring nod-up, the deep-thinking nod, or any of the other variations on this particular them. See, nodding just encourages them. In this particular context, nodding is equivalent to being a dog and following human beings around, panting idiotically and begging for morsels; the other person will just assume you’re an easy mark.
• Wait, are you eating? Then use it as your excuse, and don’t grin. Seriously. Grinning while eating is gross.
• The lopsided, vintage-Beastie Boys grin, more of a smirk, just makes you look like an asshole. Grinning noncommittally while pursing your lips? That’s just retarded. Every time you do one of these things, a fire ant takes a bite out of Dale Carnegie’s desiccated corpse.
• Ideally, the grin should be unaccompanied by utterance: no grunts, guffaws, chuckles or chortles. If you have to make a sound, make it just shy of imperceptible, because doing so implies that, really, you just wanna be left alone, that while you’re present in the flesh you’re in no way there in spirit.
• A corollary to the above: muzzle nervous, maniacal laughter. The other person might think you’re laughing at him or her, which, you know, maybe you are and you couldn’t care less how that person feels about it, but people (and maybe you, too) are crazy.
• No teeth.
• Eye contact is a must—a noncommittal grin without eye contact runs the risk of insincerity—but not too much. Remember, the eyes are the windows to the soul, and you’re not up for visitors or encyclopedia salesmen right now; you’re doing yoga up in that piece.
• What was it that authority figures used to say when we were kids? I think it was something along the lines of “speak when spoken to.” That’s debatable. In some cases, when the speaker is somebody you don’t know, the noncommittal grin can sub for a response in a pinch; if the speaker is someone known to you, it may be necessary to make an effort at an actual conversation about actual stuff, but if you’re reading this you’re probably old enough to know how to fake your way through that sort of situation without killing anybody or suffering an epileptic seizure.