Ethiopian Smiley Faces Matter: Giggling and beyond


By  Haile Kebede

People’s opinion might split evenly; but I am trying to give my second personal assessment regarding the Ethiopian smiley faces. Because the Ethiopian smiley faces are shown at all time, places and it has been said by many foreigners who have a chance to meet the Ethiopians in America. I probably would not be mistaken if I could reinistate what the foreigners have already said that the Ethiopians are generally one of the most smiley and always shine their pleasant faces to people specifically at their work places: in shops, restaurants and other similar public places where good smiley face has strong messages to customers. This subject has been briefly published in የኢትዮጵያውያን ስደትና ኑሮ book published back in 2000 EC. The theme of this article is, therefore, to throw my observation in detail extent that smiley faces have good and bad impact unless it is used appropriately or applied based on the circumstances. I wrote this article in Ethiopian style English is because to make it clear to most of young, middle age and alike who is working in business sectors where giggling or smiling is a factor to stay on job. The reason why smile matters not only to Ethiopians but to others as well is because number one, it is one of a custom norm from mainstream’s perceptions. That is to say that if one at least is giggling it is a sign of internal happiness-is that always true? But in common Ethiopian customs however, one cannot laugh/giggled with no reason; if did so it is considered as offensive.

Number two, smiling is one of the prerequisite to work at customer-centered work places in America. No doubt that it is a door opener to business, serve as certain level of communication, pro long employment and to assimilate with general public. Number three, People who work at Health sectors believed that smiling reduce stress-which I doubt. Smiling is good for better business and many believes how likely shop, hotel, and office staff are to smile at and greet customers or people they are required to deal with as part of their job seemingly at the present time where the economy is fluctuated. So on the greeting front, I strongly believe Ethiopians again had a near perfect score. Smiling is supposedly for a reason. But here in the U.S, smiling/giggling is the dominant factor to get any job for that matter. In the commercial customer service Ethiopian employees/staffs are strongest with pleasantry faces in greeting rate as one business manager indicated here under.

To support my writing I went to one of a store in Atlanta to ask the store manager to rate his Ethiopian workers in terms of smiling at their work places amongst other sales associates. During a face- to -face question-and answer session how the Ethiopian would have responded to the necessary smile, he said, “Everyone in this country should stand firm behind smiling. We need to acknowledge some hard truths about unnecessary giggling and laughing in this country, and one of those hard truths is that smiling inequality is not merely a symptom of backwardness.The manager suggested that since smiling employees are considered as additional products or services to influence customers to generate business for the company, the ratio of the Ethiopian customer service/cashiers smile to customers ranked as one of the number one in showing extra smiley faces. He further said one thing the Ethiopian should understand is that communication skill is not merely a symptom of economic inequality.

Because when they/Ethiopians misunderstood something, they laugh loudly to cover their misunderstandings and they faced criticism for not asking when they did not understand things. They think that they would be terminated from their jobs if they asked back. It is rather better to ask clarification for the thing it is not clear enough to them rather than to be passive.”

Speaking about lessons we learned from America, smiling/giggling for nothing is the normal day-to-day life. By the time we were out on our own working to be self-help and when living in the US were long enough to understand the reason behind giggling, we smile a lot even than Americans. But the unnecessary laugh is nothing more than we centering and inserting ourselves within a very emotional and personal situation without any empathy or respect.

However, in general, the study found that worldwide smiling and greeting rates in Shops, Hotels, offices and other places had been on the decline since 2004. Way back in 1980s and mid 1990s, some store employees used to stand by the store’s door and greet the incoming and outgoing customers. But now that has been decreased due to the decline of business and/or use computer generated greetings. The main reason companies prefer to use the new Technowledge rather than human being is because the machine doesn’t communicate with customers but to say only “welcome and have a good day-no further discussion involved. For instance, during Christmas holiday stores used to say “Mary Christmas” now changed to “Happy Holidays” that applies to all Christian, Muslim, and Hindu and like customers – to make greeting friendly/for political correctness.

The industry where smiling was most common was commercial worldwide, greetings in government service offices and business to business area was also the lowest in rank for both categories is less comparing to commercial affiliated stores.  I’m pretty sure that most of us would agree that the Ethiopian store associates who showed big smile is not always fake to the fact that of how big is their cultural shock is in their first months living here in the USA knowing that the smile we show is not always genuine. Coincidentally I got this chance to make my own comment to indicate that Ethiopians smile is always genuine; but it has been proven by many, that few people show their big smile while at work. When it comes to their/Ethiopians owned business and when they mingled within their own community, their smile is not wide enough as they give to their employment places. So we came to conclusion that money motivates our smiles indeed. On the shop front thing though, a man has said that “Ethiopians are cute and smiley faces give prompt and attentive services where they are assigned any day of the week. We don’t necessarily want to be friends with the staff and frequent customers but want what we are paying for. This is important quality where Ethiopia let’s down their customers. Looking at the people smiling makes me smile and persuade me to buy their products. Looking at the general smiling makes me wonder of what is really in his/her mind. But no matter it is genuine or not, Ethiopians do like smiling. I think we can judge which one is representing the truth, even without any advice from outsiders’ comments. “ But as for the difference between Ethiopians and others regarding smiling, Ethiopians are known for their love of smiling at all times whether they are happy or not and whether they are on job or not.

At last but not least, smiles have so many possibly contradictory meanings too; because when people go beyond the limited that would classify them to be challenged mental capacity. As I indicated above, the Ethiopians sometime laugh when they did not understand the conversation they are engaged in to cover their English language communication skill weakness and lead to disconnection. Commercial smiles are not always true smile. When they are aware of that they won’t get any benefit out of it, the fake smiles are gone and all you get is their dark faces. But not Ethiopians though. Personally I can spend days without seeing any smile here in America than in Ethiopia. I heard one said ‘Yes’ I’ve seen Ethiopians smile and some even laugh hysterically when even someone has had made serious mistakes or fallen in front of them. Doesn’t anyone think this might be far from reality?

The views expressed in this article are solely the author’s own opinion and do not necessary reflect all Ethiopians.
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