SMILES ARE DIRTY, GIRTY – GI COMMENTS ON ADVICE GIVEN BY GERTRUDE STEIN

By Sgt. David H. Appenzellar

In recent news magazines there was a fascinating bit about Gertrude Stein (pigeons on the grass, alas) giving a lecture to U.S. soldiers in an ARC Club in Paris. The sum and substance of the argument La Stein advanced was that the Americans were taking the war too seriously.



“How many of you,” she demanded, “smiled at a Frenchman today? Come, come, whoever smiled at a Frenchman raise his hand.” One lone hand showed.

gertrude stein

Gertrude Stein in 1935

That is obviously a situation fraught with peril. If only one out of every 300 Americans is smiling at a Frenchman daily, it will be millions of years before all the French have even smiled at even once. And what kind of a future is that to look forward to? Of course, we could organize a number of tasks forces whose daily objective would be to smile at 2,000 Frenchmen but the chances are they would soon find a regular beat and instead of 2,000 new Frenchmen each day, Mademoiselle Fifi of the Folies Bergere would be getting 2,000 smiles (not to mention handclappings, pinches and suggestions, while M. Dien, the concierge across the street, would have received nothing more than a dirty look.

Obviously, as Miss Stein suggested, it is up to each American to take it upon himself to smile daily at not one, but many, Frenchmen, I would gladly volunteer to go to Paris on per diem and conscientiously smile at each and every Frenchman or Frenchwoman I met. I would even go out of my way to find some French person that no other American had smiled at. In fact, I would prefer t. However, as La Stein is not yet connected with the Army, not even Special Services, this seems out of the question.



I did decide to do something about it in England, however, After all, the English are our Allies, too, and if the French should be smiled at, it would be out-and-out discrimination if we did not flash our teeth at the British. I asked a number of Yanks how many English people they had smiled at in one day and received some startling replies.

“None of your damn business.”

“Where do you think I got this mouse under my eye?”

“Don’t be silly, there aren’t any Englishmen in England.”

There are a cross-section of the answers I received and although not conclusive, they definitely signify and alarming trend. That trend, as clearly as I can make out, points toward the fact that Gertrude Stein can get away with questions like that while I can’t.getrude stein

Anyway, I decided that I should personally put her advice into practice. I went into town on market day determined to smile at every English person available. The first one I saw was Mabel, barmaid at the King’s Arms. “Good morning, Mabel,” I booked, and flashed a Pepsodent advertisement at her. “Don’t give me any of that stuff,” she shot back, “you’ll drink mild just like the rest of the people.”

An Eighth Army man walked in with a girl and that might have been his sister. I turned and smiled winsomely at them. He walked over to me. “Listen, Yank,” was his greeting. “I’ll give you just 10 seconds to wipe that lewd grin off your face. That girl happens to be my wife.”

I could detail the events of the day but they would all add up to the same answer. Actually Englishmen do not want to be smiled at, not by Americans, by Frenchmen or even other Englishmen. They consider it an encroachment on their personal liberty. As for Gertrude Stein, I advise her to go back to her talks with Picasso on why they are both geniuses and leave American smiles alone. I don’t intend to smile again unless someone smiles first. And even then I’m not guaranteeing anything.



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