America is the kind of place where I’ll be commenting on how friendly the locals are about five minutes before someone starts mean mugging my friend with a “F*CK YOU LOOKIN AT?”
That’s in New York.
In Nashville, my mission is not to break my face.
Not to smile so often, so widely and with such a disconnect between my mouth and my mind that my face splits in half and they send it somewhere for science. As the constant “yes, m’am, please, m’am, thank you m’am” wears on my clearly curmudgeonly soul, I’ve taken to avoiding eye contact.
It’s advice my world-travelling sister Mel yells over a Facebook message as I recount how intensely my cheeks are hurting and how disturbed I am by this ceaseless parade of teeth.
The thing is, all the Americans I’ve encountered are straight jabberjaws. Curious creatures who’ll catch a glimpse of your passport, grin and tell you all about the safari that has their skin looking so lovingly made of leather.
Look, in Windhoek, I’m notorious for being jolly and afflicted with terminal verbal diahorrea myself but out here I’m the devil wearing knock-off Prada. Constantly internally interrupted by someone wearing boots and a smile, hollering hallo from everywhere and surrounds, I’ve started thinking I’m a miserable person.
Not because I don’t see the point in opening my mouth and spewing somewhat rabid Southern Hospitality over anyone with a heartbeat approximately 16738 times a day but because I find all this niceness so incredibly unsettling.
A sickly sweet shroud draped over something more sinister given the fact that I’m in a country where black lives don’t seem to matter, a state that voted Trump and in which homicides are up and 10% are domestic-related.
I look that last bit up when I’m considering why in tarnation Nashvillians are constantly smiling at strangers.
I want to know what they’re so happy about save Tennessee’s fantastic whisky celebrated in every honky tonk and dive bar spilling Southerners into the street and I’d like to know which American city in particular inspired Jordan Peele’s ‘Get Out’ (2017).
Back to considering the smiling after fending off a random woman who stops dead in her hurrying-by tracks to ask whether she can help me take a photograph with a statue of Jack Daniels out of the blue and beyond and I’m none the wiser.
It can’t be the meat which tastes vague and criminal, the chicken which should audition for turkey or the pork ribs I bite into before wondering what exactly is happening and how I can make it stop.
As my study continues, I surmise that possibly it’s just the sheer ecstasy of not being under water courtesy of the hurricane currently ripping through the USA but as I watch the news and its predictions of a Tennessee pop in only to see people still smiling, I decide they haven’t heard.
The smiling continues, my cheeks protest and my Nigerian friend Wana and I cackle about it deep into the warm Nashville night.
Maybe I’m cynical from being weaned on insidious racism and plethoric bullsh*t but I don’t trust it.
Again, I’m probably just a miserable person.
A sporadically merry wench who comes out here, sees people living their lives politely and giving very few f*cks about negative facial cues and is bitter because she will never win gold at the Cheerful Olympics.
Maybe it’s just me.
Probably it’s just me because when I’m taking a tour of the Grand Ole Opry House and I accidentally bump into a mammoth of a man with the bald head and virulent moustache I immediately associate with white nationalists and the KKK, I shrink away in mortal fear only to hear the gentlest voice emanating from a man begging my pardon.
Even though I bumped into him.
Despite the fact that I’m stereotyping, being prejudiced and imagining him carefully cutting holes into white sheets.
I’m ashamed, apologetic and I smile back like a woman possessed. Not by anything that will have your head rotating 360 or projectile vomiting pea soup but by the Nashville spirit.
One that will wear you thin, check your misery and make you feel right at disturbingly functional home.