`People don't smile in Krakw. This is like National Black Hair Week in Denmark'

on the schmooze
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The Independent Culture
"Hi", I say to a beautiful young lady, a waif-like Polish model- type tending bar at the Hotel Pjarski in Krakw, Poland. She grins back. "Hi," I say. "I'd like a beer and can you send it outside to the canopy?"

"That," she smiles, "is not possible." "Why?" I smile. "Not possible," she smiles. "The canopy is not my responsibility." She flashes me a grin and adds: "Simply not possible." "Please?" I smile. "No," she smiles back firmly. And then, smiling, she turns away and refuses to acknowledge my presence for the rest of the night.

Tonight is the grand gala launch of National Smile Week in Krakw. When 200 Western tourists were recently polled as to what's wrong with Krakw, the same response was noted time and time again. Nobody smiles. It was as if the people of this magnificent and ancient city had failed to realise that it was okay to wipe from their faces those regulation sullen expressions that were mandatory under the Communist regime. And tonight, the great and good of Krakw have hit the streets, and are grinning inanely - for freedom, for the Yankee dollar.

Everywhere are brightly coloured posters reminding the citizens that a happy face is the new law in town, and everybody is making a special effort.

"They may be smiling," I suggest to Casha, my translator, "but they still don't seem very happy."

"What is that song?" replies Casha. " `The smile on my face is only there just to fool the public.' People don't smile in Krakw. This is like starting National Sin Week in Germany, or National Black Hair Week in Denmark."

I laugh at Casha's joke, but she doesn't smile back. "Are you deliberately not smiling as a political gesture?" I ask. "No," she replies, "I'm just not smiling."

The mayor of Krakw is due to give a speech in 30 minutes in the town square, where free vodka is being served to celebrate the new initiative, so I wile away the time by smiling at people and being refused entry into discos and bars. "No," smiles the bouncer. "Regulations - canvas shoes not possible."

"No," beams the maitre d', "you cannot drink without a tie. Regulations." "Why," I ask Casha, "is everyone so bloody miserable? Is it me?"

"No," she replies sullenly. "People here don't hate, they just haven't learned to like. Perhaps it's because they don't receive the tips. They are on a wage, so they don't need to be nice to people."

When the mayor arrives, he grins at the small crowd and climbs on to a hastily erected podium. "The sun," he begins in Polish (Casha is translating), "is learning to shine again over Krakw."

I look up at the sky, and dark clouds are forming. "Some have said," continues the mayor, " `What have we got to smile about?' And I reply `What haven't we got to smile about?' " He glances around the square, and waits for applause, although none is forthcoming. "So," concludes the Mayor, "smile. Smile for our future. Smile for the tourists. Smile." He bows and walks off again. "Let's get to the bar," I suggest to Casha, and she shrugs and nods.

Unfortunately, we arrive just as they are closing up. "Is there not time for a quick drink?" I ask the barman. "No," he smiles. Then he looks at his watch, sees that it's past 11pm, and that grinning time is over for the night. The smile fades from his face. "No," he snaps. "Closed. Goodbye."