Smiling is Universal…Mostly

Smiling is Universal…Mostly


Most would agree with William Arthur Ward who said, “A warm smile is the universal language of kindness.”

Some say it’s innate, that even blind athletes who have never seen a smile will display one in joy after a victory. Others claim it’s just a facial expression that we have been conditioned to associate with happiness since we were infants.

Regardless of how it came to mean what it means today, research has proved that smiling is recognized as kindness across the world. But how often, how big, and in what context you smile may lead to misrepresentation in cultures other than your own.

North America

The more a person smiles, the more friendly he or she is perceived in North America. We smile at friends and family when we are happy to see them, and just as much at strangers to let them know we are a nice, approachable person.

In a country where smiling is sometimes overdone, it’s likely you have encountered a fake smile or two, but can you identify one? Here is an online survey to test your smile-decoding skills – don’t forget to write your answers down on a sheet of paper. 


Unlike North Americans, less is more when it comes to smiling in Asia. Wide, toothy grins display a lack of restraint or disrespect. Someone of Asian decent may not smile for his or her picture for a professional license to avoid appearing like they don’t take the privilege seriously.

There is even a Korean saying: “He who smiles a lot is not a real man.”

Interesting fact: In an effort to be more welcoming hosts of the 2008 Olympic Games, the Chinese community was encouraged smile broader, but not too broad. It was advised that they only show eight teeth when smiling. This would allow them to appear welcoming, and not too goofy. Hostesses for the Beijing games practiced this conservative smile for hours by clenching a chopstick between their teeth, according this USA Today article.


Smiling in passing in Germany for no reason may give the impression that you are not all there – if you were, why would you be smiling for no reason?


In Russia, smiling is seen as an intimate gesture that indicates a genuine affinity toward another person, or an expression associated with laughter. Therefore, smiling at a stranger can make you appear insincere and misunderstood, according to Reader’s Digest.

A popular Russian saying goes like this: “Laughter without reason is the sign of foolishness.”

You can learn more about why Russians don’t smile as much as Westerners in this article written by a Russian student attending the University of Chicago.

Men, Women and Children

Women and children appear to smile more than men across cultures. Women are more emotionally expressive and sensitive than men, which may be a key reason they smile more, according to The SAGE Handbook of Nonverbal Communication. An a child’s naivety is likely behind their frequent grins.

They say the shortest distance between two people is a smile. If you find yourself embarrassed to share your smile with friends, family and acquaintances, call today. We offer a wealth of affordable treatment options that will have your smile straight and beautiful in no time!

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