Hello. I’m the person who smiled at you the other day before I realized we don’t actually know each other. For that, I wish to offer my sincerest apologies. I hope that if I explain myself, you will forgive me for that terribly awkward encounter.
I doubt it’s necessary to remind you of the incident, as it’s certainly burned into your memory, but maybe I was not the only one to accidentally smile at you that week. Please allow me to recount our story in rather horrific detail.
We were walking along the sidewalk, somewhere between the primary school and the petrol station. You were heading towards the city while I was walking away from it. If my memory serves me well, you were wearing grey business attire, as was I. In my hands I carried a black briefcase. From a distance I recognized you, or at least I thought I did.
I couldn’t remember which language you spoke, so I prepared an inoffensive, all-season bonjour. However, when we got closer and the details of your face became clearer, it seemed to me that we had met at a networking event and that English was your language. I mentally shifted gears and prepared to politely tip my head and say hello.
This is where the story takes a turn for the worse. As per custom, I was averting my gaze until the last instant. I vividly remember the crumbling beige stucco façade of an old house I was looking at, waiting until we were within three meters of each other to issue my greeting and allow you to continue unhindered by fear that I expected conversation.
I was suddenly struck by doubt, and I decided that you were actually someone else, a parent from the school, that our children are classmates, and that at a child’s birthday party we’d once enjoyed a fine conversation about topics ranging from the weather to the annual salary indexation.
So you see, in that moment of confusion, I honestly believed us to be real acquaintances, somewhere between two and three on the Luxembourg 10-Step Path to Friendship. I slowed my pace and loosened the muscles in my face, recklessly abandoning all plans to limit myself to a verbal greeting. Yes, as awful as it sounds, I was preparing to shake your hand, a gesture I was initiating with a smile.
Your hardened facial expression, which was fully justifiable considering the discomfort I caused you, immediately told me I had made a terrible mistake. We didn’t know each other. At all.
For what it’s worth, I spent the rest of the day reconsidering how I conduct myself in public, and the effects my behavior can have on innocent people whose only desire is to walk from point A to point B without being harassed by strangers demanding their attention. If I could, I would blame poor eyesight, a faulty memory, or work-related stress, but alas I suffer from none of these. At the end of the day, I alone carry the guilt and shame. I am truly sorry. If it’s any consolation, I have adopted a new habit of keeping my eyes down while I walk and wearing dark sunglasses, even when the skies are dark and grey. If we ever cross each other again, fear not, because I won’t even know it.
Alex W. is reformed smiler and lives in Luxembourg City