Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Conversation Continues

I am flying to NZ to see my friend who is turning 40. This year marks the beginning of the 40th birthday parties.  As I am boarding the flight I hear a conversation between an elderly woman and the overly chipper male flight attendant.  The lady in question is quite bent over and slow moving. 

Chipper: Are you ok?
Elderly: Oh yes, it’s osteoporosis, nothing to be done.  

Chipper makes a sympathetic noise like “ohhh, ummm” *sigh* - sad face.

Elderly: It’s fine, I get around. It can just make life a bit more difficult.
Chipper: I can see that. 

I should pause here and say that we were stuck for quite a while standing and waiting as someone in Business class was flossing their teeth in the aisle or something.

Chipper: Moving now.
Elderly: Yes, thank-you.
Chipper: Take care and have fun!

This is the reason I related this little conversation for you. Chipper’s chosen sign off to a woman in her 70’s who has just told him about her affliction with osteoporosis. “Have fun”. How much fun is she going to have trapped in a tiny airline seat with a back problem? What this conversation really highlighted to me is the way that we conduct small talk, how much we listen and genuinely apply thought to our reply.

I dislike small talk intensely; I think that it is one of the reasons that I don’t really like parties. I don’t like getting to know people by asking about the minutiae of their lives. Equally I don’t like it if they reveal, in the first 10 minutes of knowing them, that they have been seeing a therapist for depression because of issues with their parents. What I want is some sort of interesting, yet well balanced conversation which does not make me uncomfortable with over-intimacy or want to kill myself with its banality. 

Airplanes are the worst for small talk. THE WORST.  You are trapped next to someone and they might want to talk to you, for the duration of the flight. The best people to sit next to are elderly men, the worst are, conversely, elderly women. Elderly men usually fall asleep the minute you take off, or they read, or they work. What they don’t do, is talk to you. Elderly women... sigh.... they talk. I was once sitting next to a woman who told me about her bowel resection from Christchurch to Melbourne. That’s 3 hours of side splitting narrative about bowels. When I finally thought that she was done and I had made all the signs that she was to leave me alone now, she said “And then my son got bowel cancer...” *quiet sobbing*. 

The above makes me sound like a curmudgeon, I guess that I am. What I actually like is to have a brief establishing conversation to ascertain if we have anything in common and then I like to politely withdraw if it’s not going well. 

The other thing about an airplane is that you might be sitting next to that person for 14 to 18 hours, depending on where you are going. So sometimes there is the opportunity to genuinely makes friends with someone. I know someone who met her current boyfriend on the plane. 

I travelled to America a few years ago and I met a woman standing in the aisle, who told me she was travelling to the funeral of her granddaughter.  She had died at only 2 days old. The woman had dropped everything to be with her son and his wife. She was tired, sad and resolute. I knew that she would take charge when she got there and that they would be happy to see her. The story took about 30 minutes, she needed to tell someone - I could see that. It spilled out of her as if she couldn't believe that it was happening to her family. She had jumped on a plane, pleaded with airlines to get her there. She has a terrible itinerary, it was going to take her 40 hours to get to Canada. I hope I helped by listening.

Melbourne airport has become a dizzying duty free extravaganza now. You squeeze out of customs, the line for which was so unimaginably long, my brain shut down upon seeing it. After emerging from the most cursory check of your passport you are delivered into a wonderland of consumer excitement. It is very hard not to buy something. I did. There is an excellent lolly shop in there with the lollies in test tubes and beakers. I immediately loved it and wanted everything in there. I settled for some jelly beans in the test tubes. 

The Aviation Authority has a sign on the back of the toilet door in the waiting lounge that indicates “Some things are not meant to travel”. They have chosen a shark as the semiotic reference point for this. A shark. Well, yes, best not to take sharks on board – they are very bitey and big and probably after a while, fishy smelling. You’d think someone would notice that. 

Staff member: Sir, is that a shark?
Shark Guy: No.
Staff member: I think it is, it’s very large and has fins and lots of teeth. I’m pretty sure it’s a shark.
Shark Guy: Of course it isn’t! I’ve seen the signs in the toilets. No sharks! Why would I do that?
Staff member: Oh yes, good point! Well, if you’re sure that it’s not a shark..
Shark Guy: Nope.
Staff member: Ok.
Shark Guy: Do you have a large tank of seawater here? 

So, no sharks. Take it as read.  

I landed safely.

1 comment:

  1. I wonder if we would talk to each other if we sat together on an airplane? You'd probably say something like "Is that a shark in your pants or are you just happy to see me?" And I'd say, "Have fun." And you'd make some sort of crazy proposal and I'd smile at your accent and say "Penguins."