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I remember years ago, in Dublin,  when I was a receptionist, I had to give a caller to my office bad news.  Like the fact that the boss wasn't in the office at the moment when the poor woman had travelled halfway across town to meet him.  She could wait, I suggested. Or go out and do a bit of work somewhere else in the area and drop in again later.  Her answer really shook me.

"You could at least smile when you're saying that," she said.

"The cheek of her," I sniffed indignantly, when she'd left.  "Telling me to smile.  How dare she!"

I was rather immature in those days.  I hadn't quite copped on to the fact that a receptionist (which is what I was in that office, among other things) is a professional meeter and greeter.  That means smiling at people.  Even when you don't feel like it.

Okay, so my Walkman was broke and needed costly repairs.   Okay, so I'd finished my last packet of cigarettes before payday.  Okay, so my (then) boyfriend (Yash) hadn't written to me for (at least) six months.  This was the time of our long separation prior to  our marriage.  None of that mattered.  My job was to smile.  I had to just keep smiling and get on with it.  The last straw was when Mr. Singh, a senior office colleague, commented on my sullen expression, which would probably have stopped a clock in its tracks.

"Miss Maria," he said (well, he was an Indian.  Of the old school, you can say), "please do your job with the smiling face.  Always."  He was one of these people who always used the definite article when an indefinite one would do perfectly well.  "The smiling face" indeed.  I started to smile.

"That's better.  Keep it up," he said.  I laughed out loud after that.

If I ever wanted a quick fix smile, I only had to talk to this fellow.  He was a tall, princely gentleman from the Punjab in north India.  He was very smart and always wore his suit with perfectly matching turbans.  One day, Mary, our office cleaning lady had an accident, hurt her back and was unable to come to work that day.  Mr. Singh was very sorry to hear this.

"Hello Mary!  How is your backside?" he asked, when Mary came in the next day.  That remark raised quite a few smiles, if not a few outright laughs, in our office.  He meant her injured back of course.  Poor thing, he had no idea that "backside" meant a somewhat lower region of the body in our part of the world.  I mean, technically, Mr. Singh's English was perfect, but every language has its little quirks, doesn't it?

I can only imagine the smile-inducing mistakes that I'd make if I attempted to speak in Punjabi.  That was Mr. Singh's mother tongue, of course.

This is my weekly post for the Loose Blogger Consortium. We are a group of bloggers from different parts of the world with diverse views and styles of writing, and we post simultaneously (well, we try to) on a weekly basis on a given topic.  Our members  are, in no particular order,  Anu,  Maria,   Magpie, Will Knott,   Nema, Noor, JoePaulAkankshaDelirious, Padmini, AshokConrad, gaelikaa, Grannymar, and Rummuser.  This topic 'Smile' was chosen by Grannymar.


  1. Many a colloquial expression, can lead to confusion or laughter depending on the audience. I hope you explained to Mr. Singh, the reason for the laughter, in order to save him further embarrassment.

    The tale did make me smile!

  2. I would probably smile every time I saw Mr. Singh, simply because of the memory of "the backside". :D

  3. @Grannymar - to tell you the truth, I was way too embarrassed to tell him. There was another fellow in the office that time who was a lot less formal and he used to keep saying 'hanky panky' all the time when something looked strange at work. You should have seen the look on his face when we (me and the other girls) told him what it meant in our understanding.

    @delirious - yes, that's exactly what happened.

  4. Poor Mr. Singh. I think all of us who have attempted a second language have had our moments of embarrassmemt. So keep that smiling face of yours in action all the time. LOL

  5. The use of Back-Side for the rear of any thing is very common in all parts of India because in all Indian languages back and rear are used together to indicate the rear; like peechay key tharaf. I used to work for a British company and this one particular expression gave raise to much merriment to the expats as well as those of the privileged English speaking snobs. Those memories made me smile too.

  6. So right! We forget to smile when talking to people, especially if the news is good, light or just'news'. A grave face always carries doom and gloom with it, doesn't it?

  7. Hee hee.
    Reminded me of working in Poland, when the self-styled Vice Boss (deputy boss) used to give directions by referring to the backside of the bishop's palace.
    But from the Poles' point of view, apparently the way English people pronounce the words "sure" sounds like penis in Polish. I was perfectly acceptable though with my Irish accent.
    This revelation emerged during a discussion on different English-speaking accents after a group of older women suddenly got up and walked out. You see - English people, you can't take them anywhere.

  8. :-)

    But were you smiling when you wrote this article for your blog?

  9. This was a smile-evoking post. :)

  10. Brilliant! I could almost visualise the whole incidence =D

    Not sure if you know but all Mr. Singhs are rather famous for their practical humour they tend to be a protagonist in...of course unknowingly.

    I know of one Mr. Singh who took his car to the garage as the key wouldn't work, only to realise he was trying to use his house key all day long. Embarrassing? Ask this to any Mr. Singhs you may see in your neighbourhood


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