Feel free to prove me wrong, but I swear if you ever see someone in a picture with a smile like this you can pretty much guarantee they are American.
I'm not saying that every American smiles this way (the smile also seems to be much more common in women than men), but it does seem to be very typical. I was inspired to write this post by what I've seen on Facebook. I browsed through the photographs of old friends and acquaintances and over and over, I saw this smile.
The question is, why do we smile that way? Are we trying to prove to the world we have never, ever been sad, not even once? Are we putting on an upbeat mask so no one can see who we really are inside? Then again, maybe I'm just getting too philosophical. Maybe Vanna White was popular just a bit too long. Maybe we've been overly conditioned by "Say Cheese". Maybe Barbie is to blame. Who knows? What I can say for certain is that no German person could ever smile like that, probably not even if they tried. The following two photographs I got after googling "German Smile". They are what you would most often see here (one was even labelled "Shy German Smile", undoubtedly by an American...)
When I first moved abroad I guess you could say I was a disgruntled American. I was pretty angry about the politics and the hypocrisy and the social injustice. I also didn't consider myself a "stereotypical" American. And yet, when I look at pictures the first few years that I lived here, I still had that smile. "Look at you," my husband always says. "You look like such an American girl." (The following picture is from a Russian denistry website called "American Smile".)
Though the smile may have faded over the years, so has my anger. The fire in my belly has long been reduced to ash and coal and, in its place, I now wear a very thick pair of rose-colored glasses. When I think of the U.S. now, the word that often comes to mind is "Awww..." People are so friendly there. You get ice in your drinks. Everything is not a big freaking deal all the time like it is here. Though my German is completely fluent, I've purposely never tried to reduce my accent. Why should I? I'm proud of my heritage.
Of course, it's not possible for everyone but if you can, live at least a few years in another country. You will see your own culture in a different light. Certain ideas you take for granted or see as being "truths" and "normal behavior" will be tested. You will learn to both appreciate and be critical of aspects you had never really even thought about before. And yes, if you are American, you just might loose "that smile", but in its place you will gain a new found wisdom. ;)