From our condo in Paris, I ran my daily five miles down a busy street, in the morning as some of the commuters were out going to the shops or heading to the subway.
I noticed the most disconcerting thing. Parisiens do not smile. They make eye contact approximately 70% of the time (it’s boring, running is, so I actually count these statistics), about the same as in other big cities anywhere in the world. But despite the same curiosity about who is passing them that people all over the world have, and a similar eye-contact rate, they do not smile!
Here in Utah, I run along the canal, and everyone says hello and smiles to everyone else, even if we don’t know each other. I decided to do a little experiment, and smile at everyone I ran past to see what happened.
Well, not much happened. No one smiled back. So I changed my polite, public smile to the one I reserve for when I see one of my favorite people, really enthusiastic. (I told my brothers this, and one of them said I was probably scaring people.) What I mostly got was a look of surprise, but a return smile? Still very rare.
So I challenged myself. (I’m telling you, I’ll do almost anything to make running more interesting.) I decided that each morning, I would not return to the condo until I’d gotten 10 people to return my smile. That doesn’t sound like many, and I smiled at probably 200 in the effort . . . but that first day, I still had to run almost an extra full mile to get the 10th one!
Men returned my smile 4:1 over women, which I assume is because they don’t want to be rude to someone of the opposite gender. Also. You can always count on nuns to smile–love to see someone in a habit coming down the sidewalk.
After a few days, I had an interesting experience. I went out for my run and didn’t really care about my return-smile statistics. I felt a lot of joy and completely genuine positive feelings for the people I ran past, having sort of embraced Paris after spending almost a week there. And I smiled at everyone who passed, but without really caring whether I met my quota or not. And guess what—even though I was out earlier that morning, with fewer people on the street, my return smiles count tripled! Thirty people smiled back, and I didn’t have to run an extra mile!
What is the moral of this story? Anyone?
[This isn’t the moral of the story, but I honestly wonder if with all that white bread the Parisiens eat, constipation is causing all the frowning. Those poor people have frown lines before their time! They don’t just not smile–they FROWN! Being constipated will drain your battery faster than anything. And white bread, or what I call “glue,” is the fastest route to that particular malady. I didn’t eat any of it in Paris because I wanted ALL my energy for climbing the steps of the Eiffel Tower. And walking all over the beautiful city, and that amazing 200+ acre chateau in Versailles, built by Louis XIV built by 45,000 workers who had to clear a swamp. Oh, and grinning at total strangers!] Photos below are of us halfway up the Eiffel Tower and in front of the chateau at Versailles.