Eye Contact and Smiling


Smiling: A Foreign Thing to Many Parisians

Have you ever realized how awkward it can be to make eye contact with people in the street? Do you look away from them or do you look at the oncoming person? In the US the polite thing to do is to make eye contact and smile or say hello depending on where you are. But in Paris people react to eye contact like you're staring into their soul. And God forbid if you smile at them. Is this just one more thing that adds to the reason why so many people (including myself) think Parisians are grumpy people?

If I were in the country or in the US while crossing paths in the street, I would smile or say hello to the people that I make eye contact with. But in Paris if you make eye contact, don't expect anyone to smile, even of you smile at them. Sometimes you might even get some kind of grimace like "what the hell is this person smiling at?" But very rarely do I come across someone that will actually smile when I make eye contact. A nice refreshing smile! At first just avoided making eye contact with people all together in the street because making eye contact without smiling or doing something is awkward. But then I realized that I don't need to feel awkward because they want to be rude! So I smile at them, grinning at how uncomfortable some people look when I do it. Can you tell that I have a problem with pressing people's buttons?

Back when I was tan, oh how I miss the sun!
The Eiffel Tower

So why do us Americans feel awkward with making eye contact without smiling but Parisians feel awkward with smiling to strangers? I think that for us Americans, eye contact is something that is personal. So we try to cover it up with some sort of greeting. We don't want to be caught staring at someone. But in Paris there's no shame in staring at people. And since they don't smile much to begin with, it can be weird for them to smile at strangers if you're not even going to make conversation. But that's just what I've noticed. There could easily be more to it. Oh well, until then I'll just keep freaking them out by smiling at them in the street. 

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