When I started writing this blog as a light-hearted look at some of my experiences here, I was, of course, aware that some Latvians might not agree with (or gasp, might not like) some of the topics I wrote about. However, of all the things I thought I might have to justify, I really never thought that I would end up spending half my weekend defending, wait for it, smiling.
The Oxford Dictionary defines a smile as a pleased, kind, or amused facial expression, typically with the corners of the mouth turned up and the front teeth exposed. So, I hear you ask, who on earth could be offended by that? Well, the answer my friends, is Latvians. The prevailing opinion seems to be that British and Irish people are fake because we smile a lot. Personally, I like to believe that it’s just because we’re an friendly open bunch but to a Latvian person, this is clearly very sinister behaviour.
However, I believe smiling is a good thing. It relieves stress, costs nothing, takes but a moment of your time, cheers you up and if you smile at someone else, you’ll brighten up their day too. Numerous songs have been written about smiling – ‘Smile Like You Mean It’, ‘Smile (though your heart is aching)’ and ‘(Come up and see me) Make me Smile’ to name but a few.
The English language is also quite rich when it comes to ‘smile’ territory. You can smile, smirk, grin or beam; you can crack a smile, flash a smile, grin from ear to ear, come up smiling. Idioms about smiling include ‘grin and bear it’, ‘let your smile be your umbrella’ and ‘a smile a day keeps the Latvian away’. OK, so I made the last one up but you get the idea.
These days, it’s rare to get an email or a text without a smiley face. Winky smileys, confused smileys, shocked smileys and the ironic sad smileys pepper modern communication. It seems that we can’t fully convey what we mean in words alone. A little yellow smiley face, however, makes everything clear. So maybe there is something to this smiling lark after all.
In an effort to find out, I declare tomorrow ‘International Smile at a Latvian Day’. So whoever you are, wherever you live, if you know a Latvian, smile at them. I’ll be doing my bit in Riga. Rigans beware – I’ll be the weird foreigner beaming at you on the bus or smirking at you in the supermarket. I’m hoping I might even get a smile or two in return. Stranger things have happened, right? 😉