If my old headmaster is to be believed, it takes 17 muscles to smile and 43 to frown. He didn’t mention how many muscles were required for a face devoid of expression.
My face has two settings: vacant and asleep. It doesn’t matter whether I am at work, rest or play – my look of dull neutrality remains. This is not a boast, but a confession. I’d love to have an expressive, character-filled face that conveys a thousand different emotions with just a twitch of an eyebrow, like Charlie Chaplin or Buzz Lightyear. Unfortunately, I can’t twitch an eyebrow without first pursing my lips and jutting out my chin. If I try to show surprise, delight or concern, I end up resembling a cartoon owl. With a few minutes to prepare and the correct underwear, I can just about manage bewilderment, but that is the complete gamut of reaction I can muster.
My fellow Dubaians, on the other hand, are a bubbling melting pot of emotion. The lady who does my dry cleaning was so deliriously happy when I took in my shirts last week I had to ask her what the matter was. Turns out she had just found some chewing gum in her purse. In contrast, my taxi driver almost burst into tears when I told him I didn’t have change for a Dhs50 note.
Everywhere I go it is the same. Waiters reveal with what seems like genuine remorse that there is no chicken left, and my neighbour greets me so vibrantly each morning I am starting to get suspicious. Not that he would know it by looking at me. If he doesn’t think I’m rude, he must be convinced I’m over-medicated. He actually seems like a nice fellow, but each morning I respond with the same bland grunt.
Going out to bars and clubs can be a nightmare. Unable to shout my dazzling conversation over loud music and faced with my vaguely comatose countenance, I am often mistaken for something of a grump. Nothing, as it happens, could be further from the truth, and yet it is not uncommon for complete strangers to approach and tell me to cheer up. The sunny disposition that lies beneath my slow-witted face stops me from jabbing my thumb in their eye. Instead, I just explain patiently that I am having a wonderful time – this is just how I look. Obviously they never hear any of that, so they spend the rest of the evening casting worried glances in my direction and smiling sympathetically. You’ve probably seen me around – I’m the guy staring blankly into the distance when everybody else is smiling.