Saturday, 1 November 2014

Circular conversations


I have thought about doing some more guest posts along the lines of the others, but I cannot seem to think of a way of doing them without unintentionally hurting or upsetting others, rather than giving us all a break from listening to me droning on.

If I did Britta, I would have to concentrate on her charming use of English as a second language, and every time I have met someone who wants to polish their English by being corrected on every little nuance until there is no trace of accent left, I refuse to go along with it on the grounds that - aside from content - this is a great part of their charm for me and I would be sad to see it go.

I waved goodbye to T2 yesterday, and I was sad to see him go too. His grasp of English is not quite as polished as T1's, but the meaning and humour comes through as strong as it would if it were not watered-down by perfect English.

I was once sitting with him - probably in a pub - and there was a lull in the conversation, probably because I was tired.

Eventually he turned to me and said in a straight voice, "I think you are very boring."

I looked into his eyes and could find no trace of irony or any hint of a smile on his face, and I realised that he really meant what he said. I was temporarily nonplussed and not a little shocked.

Then I understood that he meant to say, 'I think you are very bored' and was asking if I was ok. Moments like these are wonderful, and would never happen if perfect English was spoken.

In one of the places I have lived, we had an African postman. Being non-English, he soon became a friend and would stop for a cup of tea with me during his round. I looked forward to his early morning visits - once I had learned how to converse in the way that he used to do with his friends and neighbours in the village of his birth.

As time goes on, we are losing the art of real conversation in this country, and this problem has been exacerbated by the widespread use of cocaine amongst the last two generations, along with the assertion that we must all be more assertive in order to get along in the workplace or even just get along with each other without being beaten in some sort of verbal competition. We constantly interrupt each other now, often butting-in halfway through a sentence.

I soon learnt that - in order to get the meaning of the African postman's conversation - you had to hear him out from beginning to end. His stories were circular, and made no sense until the last word joined up with the first, having gone all the way round.

If you broke the circle by interrupting him, he could never meaningfully finish his story. That's just the way it was, and - unlike English - there were no tangents.

In his culture, it is also the height of impoliteness to say anything for about 30 seconds after the other person has finished talking. To do so would indicate that you have not properly digested the other person's message, but just want to give your own point of view above all else.

Some cultures produce natural poets who carefully structure the most ordinary observations, adding a beauty to them which is rarely found in the banter of British pubs.


22 comments:

  1. You would make a wonderfully spirited postman, Tom, who would have plenty of fine conversation and quietly dispose of all the tedious circulars and bills rather than trouble your friends with them. May I put in a word for you with the Royal Mail? I believe I went to school with their CEO's cousin's hairdresser.

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    1. T2 told me that a Bremerhaven postman was recently discovered to be hiding dozens of undelivered parcels in his basement, attic, under the bed, etc. because he couldn't cope with the pressures of work. I might turn into one of those, as you accurately predict.

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  2. I wonder if anyone is completely decent at imitation. Thackeray was said to be wildly successful when he hit his stride, but I wonder.
    Your opinions, on the other hand, are your own, and a pleasure to congratulate of abuse.

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    1. I was particularly worried about abusing you, Joanne. I'll send that pebble soon.

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  3. Out here it is current practice for at least 3 or 4 people to be talking at the same time.... it saves time waiting for them to finish. I often find myself doing the same with more traditional Brits, and get given the very evil eye.

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    1. Same here, but only in pubs or on Radio 4.

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  4. As I age (minute by too fast minute) I feel panicky about the number of people I care about that I am not communicating with. I am leaving a few of them poems (God save them) and a few more letters. Nah, I have no intention of dying soon but language, written and spoken is disappearing so must do my part to yak it up. LOVED the "boring" comment by the way!

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    1. Disappearing, or re-generating like the brooms and buckets of the Sorcerer's Apprentice?

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  5. I read your blog to the end, Tom - waited three minutes in awe, and read it again - having understood that it was symbolizing a circle. I conceitedly loved what I saw, felt with T2 and his blunder (we Germans are always afraid of such little misunderstandings - which cast a slur at us of being blunt - though its Skylla or Charybdis: if we don't say anything, out of fear, you might thinks us boring... another circle..).
    On the whole I never tried to imitate Queen Mum's beautiful English (I see 'Dalziel&Pascoe' (Yorkshire), or 'Vera' (fake Northumberland) or ''Shetland' - so I have an excuse)
    The French are masters of long pauses among few spoken words, leaden with meaning (hahaha: or should I write 'loaden' - deliberately I stick to my first choice - late revenge for the many films of Godard I had to endure in my youth.

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    1. This comment has made me more determined that ever to get you on a guest-spot over here. Yes, it will happen.

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    2. And yes, Godard was a pain in the arse.

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  6. First of all I do not think you drone on Tom - I love your posts - everyone of them.
    Secondly I do agree about folk interrupting and not really listening to one's point of view - far too eager to get their own oar in.

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    1. How can I parody you after a comment like that, Weave?

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  7. On conversation, people around here are of few words . When P speaks it is pure poetry and it can take a long time for him to tell me something because of long descriptions and pauses and I do not know how it is going to end There are long silences in Norfolk conversations and you don't interrupt and you never rush them. As for cocaine, I am not surrounded by ex users who cannot string two words together and wouldn't know where to find such people in my life. I doubt that there are so many that the loss of the art of conversation across a generation can be blamed on cocaine.

    On guest posts I would like to say that it is unnerving to see oneself so recognizable and to be absent and have no control. I found the lack of control the most difficult part and I believe this applies as much to the author as the subject.

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    1. I am currently reading the Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman about a postman who steams open letters and takes on the identity of someone else and writes poetry....

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    2. Spooky about the reading material.

      Places like Bath and London are saturated in coke, but it is so bloody boring, just like the users.

      Between you and P, how many fingers have you got?

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    3. Fuck off seems appropriate here.

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    4. Anything else would be out of character. 22?

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    5. Do you want to know about my webbed feet?

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