This little anecdote is still making me laugh, hours after my husband told it to me:
He was walking near our house and decided to cut through a park with a playground. A little girl he didn't know was rocking back and forth on a large chicken on a spring. As my husband walked by her, she said to him "You're mean."
He was very surprised and stopped in his tracks. He said to her "I hope I'm not mean. I don't think I'm mean. Why do you think I'm mean?" She said "You look mean."
And he does! When he is walking and thinking intense thoughts about Science, he is the classic spaced-out professor for whom the rest of the world doesn't exist. He is off in Science Space, thinking about a problem he is working on, a paper he is writing, a proposal he wants to write. His impressive Science Eyebrows are scrunched up as he walks and thinks. I can see why a little girl on a rocking chicken would think he looked mean.
This has happened to me too. A few years ago the lab coordinator for my department told me that one of the international graduate students was afraid to be my assistant for a lecture course because I had never smiled at him (the student) in the hallways. After being told that, I made a point of giving this student a huge smile and a hearty hello every time I saw him. I personally would find that more disturbing than passing a busy, distracted professor in the hall, but he seemed to like it. Eventually he was my lecture assistant and we got along fine. I still give him a huge smile and hello whenever I see him. I do wish he would finish his degree and leave, though, as all that smiling and hello-ing is exhausting. [<-- joke]
When I was younger, random strangers would sometimes tell me to "Smile!", and that made me feel hostile, even when I'd been feeling reasonably cheerful before. I used to respond with "My best friend just died" or "I have cancer", which was mean, I know. I don't get the Smile! command anymore, perhaps because it's not something you say to middle-aged women.
Do real people out there in the real world walk around with huge smiles all the time, either because they are always cheerful or as a preventive measure so that people won't think they are mean or grumpy? I don't know. Perhaps I am too absent-minded to notice, but I get a lot of my best thinking done while I am walking around.
6 years ago