Olga Khazan on why Americans smile so much, and so broadly:
After polling people from 32 countries to learn how much they felt various feelings should be expressed openly, the authors found that emotional expressiveness was correlated with diversity. In other words, when there are a lot of immigrants around, you might have to smile more to build trust and cooperation, since you don’t all speak the same language.
People in the more diverse countries also smiled for a different reason than the people in the more homogeneous nations. In the countries with more immigrants, people smiled in order to bond socially. Compared to the less-diverse nations, they were more likely to say smiles were a sign someone “wants to be a close friend of yours.” But in the countries that are more uniform, people were more likely to smile to show they were superior to one another. That might be, the authors speculate, because countries without significant influxes of outsiders tend to be more hierarchical, and nonverbal communication helps maintain these delicate power structures….
[W]hen Wal-Mart opened stores in Germany, the company also had to tweak its chipper ways to better suit the sober local mores, as The New York Times reported in 2006:
Wal-Mart stopped requiring sales clerks to smile at customers—a practice that some male shoppers interpreted as flirting—and scrapped the morning Wal-Mart chant by staff members.
“People found these things strange; Germans just don’t behave that way,” said Hans-Martin Poschmann, the secretary of the Verdi union, which represents 5,000 Wal-Mart employees here.
I give you the Wal-Mart chant:
Say what you want about the Germans — this proud race’s refusal to perform the Wal-Mart chant can only be pleasing in the eyes of Odin.
I’ve noticed Germany getting distinctly friendlier over the years, which I think is a welcome development. It’s never the kind of fulsome, fake, enforced American friendliness, but just a greater tendency to make eye contact and exchange a few simple greetings and a joke or two. If the optimal level of friendliness is 5 on a scale of 1 (Soviet Russia) to 10 (Disneyland), Germany has slowly crept up from 2.5 to now 4.6. America is at 8.1, and needs to get that number down.