Thailand is known as the Land of Smiles. And for good reason: historically, the smiles were everywhere. The default face brought to nearly every encounter was a smile. That appearance of friendliness gave this country a feeling a welcoming warmth that hooked many of us foreigners, encouraging us to return time and again for vacations or to settle here.
Of course, it became clear over time that at least some of the time, and perhaps even most of the time, the smile is not genuine, Sometimes it hides mere neutrality and ennui, sometimes sadness and stress, sometimes anger and outright contempt. But, in general, a foreigner here could really bask in a general ambient feeling of warmth and pleasantness.
But lately, the smiles have been fewer.
Random interaction with strangers, walking in opposite direction on the sidewalk, exchanging looks with someone at the post office or at the phone company. While these situations do not usually warrant a smile back home in the USA, all these had typically been smile situations here in Thailand, especially if I offer the smile first. But not so much anymore. I get left hanging on the smile quite often these days. Paying the cashier at the market. Nope. Heck, I’m not even getting the perfunctory acknowledgment from workers like gas station attendants to whom I have just given a tip for service.
Where have all the smiles gone? Sigh…