Why they will not smile

Sunday July 18 2021


By Nafha Maani Ebrahimi

In our daily lives, we often pass by people.  In a village it may be a neighbour, in the city a stranger. We may have the time to look straight into their faces and examine their condition, or we may just pass by.  

If we come from a land where people greet each other warmly, a cold and distant look may come to us as offensive. If we come from cold countries like Europe or North America the same cold and distant look may come as a very normal behaviour.

This was something that was always on my mind and I thought that people are measured by the countries they live in, the culture, the background. 

However, recently I added another component on how people behave when you meet them randomly in a market, a shopping mall or simply walking on the streets, the component of one’s personal circumstances and conditions.

As I took a walk recently following a very traumatising experience, I noticed I could barely notice people, not even when they  nodded in greeting. 

I found this very interesting because I usually look for that smile on people’s faces to be able to return it with one of my own. All of a sudden it struck me that I had been judging people by their reaction towards me, without knowing what they were going through that day. What if they were grieving? Or maybe they had a family feud, or faced financial problems, who am I to judge people’s response to my greetings?


I remember many years ago I was looking for an important paper in one of the Luxembourgish administration offices. There was a lady seated in front of me with a toddler. The little girl was so charming that I smiled at her pretty face. The little girl just frowned, turned her face away from me looking at her mother.  The mother in turn said with a very assertive tone; “thank you my little girl, we never smile back at strangers”. At that moment I was very offended, almost ashamed at my reaction which I considered quite normal when seeing a cute little baby. On that day I learnt something new. 

Later on I realised that this was part of the mother’s education to her daughter. Then, in Europe, child abuse, kidnapping and other related matters were on the rise.  People were scared and they found no other way but to warn their children against strangers.

After that experience not only did I not feel hurt, but I  also always tried not to smile at children, because I fully understood their reaction.  Life is a learning path, it doesn’t  matter how old or young we are, what matters is the reflection and the insights we gain out of each stop that we have at life’s stations.