On not knowing how to be

I don’t resort to bad language as a rule but there are times when the occasional expletive shoots from my mouth, the odd fuck or shit.

Otherwise, I tend towards the well-spoken.

I try to enunciate my vowels the way my teachers taught me at school. But these days I find there is a disconnect between the words that come out of my mouth and the thoughts in my mind.

These days I find there are things I want to say to the person seated opposite, things I should not say, like

‘Your breath is foul,’ or

‘There’s parsley on your teeth,’ or

‘There’s a pink line along the edge of your neck where your makeup begins and your skin colour ends. It looks ridiculous.’

 I want to say these things but I know they are rude and people do not say such things to one another, unless they’re troubled, or the mother of a small child or maybe someone’s partner.

But even married people don’t say these things to one another unless they aim to hurt.

These days, whenever I sit with the group of people from my work, when we form a tight circle around the edge of the room and hold our hands on our laps and look at one another earnestly as we speak about the important things that matter at our work with troubled people who come to our agency for help because they have no money and someone has to decide whether they should be eligible for a hamper of food or a credit card that allows them to buy proper food at a supermarket or provide a bed for the night.

We cross and uncross our legs. We take it in turns to speak. We wait patiently until the person speaking has had their say. We do not interrupt. We do not remark on anyone’s appearance or the fact that one person looks to be hung over or that another member of the group is fighting off the urge to sleep or someone else is trying to stop themselves from flying into a rage because they did not get the permission they needed to give a large sum of money to a very worthy woman to whom they had taken a liking.

We do not remark upon what we have observed or give words to our thoughts, or so I believe if I am to believe that other people think like me.

But I cannot be sure that other people think like me and when the woman who sits beside the tall older man who has now fallen asleep and begun to snore taps him on the leg to wake him up, does she do so because she is like me and cannot abide the sound of a man snoring or does she do it to spare him the embarrassment of being so deeply asleep that his snores will soon turn into grunts and everyone will notice.

Not everyone is like me, I need to remind myself.

Not everyone cares about what other people are doing or saying or not saying. Not everyone wants to get inside the other person’s head to figure out what goes on there.

It is important to take care in this world of social discourse.

It is important to keep good manners, to watch your ps and qs, as my mother used to say.

It is important to keep up appearances as my sister once told me. To be tactful, and sensitive as my teachers have taught me. To look to the needs of others and to forego your own.

But it can be hard to know your own needs when you have focussed so much on what goes on in the minds of others, or at least when you have focussed so much on what they might be thinking especially when they do not say.

‘Would you like tea or coffee?’ the person in charge of the kettle says to the next person who stands in the queue.

‘I’m easy,’ he says.

‘Whichever is easier,’ the next person says

And the woman with the kettle must decide for them or ask again, ‘Which do you prefer?’

People are like that. They don’t own up to their desires or preferences and so you need to figure it out from the clues and hints that come your way and you can never be sure.

You can only practise yourself.

‘Yes, please. I’d like a cup of tea, white with one sugar.’

The sugar is dangerous, you know.

In this day and age, people disapprove of sugar much as they disapprove of cigarettes. Smoking is a complete no-no and drinking too much alcohol as well. A small glass sipped gently and over a long period of time is okay but no guzzling.

Serious drinking and the eating of sugar must take place behind the scenes.

I cannot get to an end of all things I must figure out in the strange thing called human discourse, but I shall keep on trying, otherwise I will be ostracised and then I will not have one single clue about how to live my day.

5 thoughts on “On not knowing how to be”

  1. I also don’t swear as a rule. Occasionally I’ll allow one of my characters to but not often. Try as I might to distance myself from them I can’t deny they’re a part of me—or at least once were—and, as such, remain more like me than unlike. I have tried to swear but it’s like a foreign language. I know what to say and when it’s appropriate but my accent is off; my French is no better than my profane. I remember Billy Connolly debating the popular notion that if you have a rich vocabulary you don’t have to resort to cusswords. Connolly, unsurprisingly, disagreed—he particularly objected to the notion of resorting—and stated his case in his own inimitable and expletive-drenched manner. The thing is when Connolly swears it’s the most natural thing in the world. It sounds right when he does it. I don’t know why I don’t swear. It’s not as if no one around me swore. Although my parents never did the kids I hung around with did and despite the fact whilst in their company I willingly embraced stealing and lying along with trespass, damage to property and cycling on pavements I never found the need to use bad language and no one seemed to think this odd or press me to conform. Perhaps it was the accent.

    As for speaking my mind I was never slow about voicing my opinion growing up and I always had one and often a couple to spare. It took me a long time to learn to bite my tongue. And then one day I realised I was no longer desperate to share my opinion even when I knew best (which I always thought I did). I think I simply got tired trying to change a world that didn’t want to change. I never understood this. I still don’t but I don’t care as much as I once did. I don’t understand why most people do what they do and I’ve resigned myself to the fact I never will. People do things and if they get in my way I deal with them. Mostly these days I simply avoid them. It’s easier and I feel no sense of loss. I certainly don’t fear ostracism, not one bit. Humanity still fascinates me. Individuals, not so much.

  2. I imagine we tend to sear when we’re exposed to it growing up, though some folks exposed to it might also rebel against it. In the opposite direction, when I first went to university I found great delight in swearing for the first time in my life, given I’d been a ‘good’ girl till then. It must have been pretty unbecoming given I used it too often for effect. I grew out of the need to shock with my words, but still swear when I’m suddenly taken aback. I try to limit it though.

    Thanks, Jim

  3. I imagine we tend to swear when we’re exposed to it growing up, though some folks exposed to it might also rebel against it. In the opposite direction, when I first went to university I found great delight in swearing for the first time in my life, given I’d been a ‘good’ girl till then. It must have been pretty unbecoming given I used it too often for effect. I grew out of the need to shock with my words, but still swear when I’m suddenly taken aback. I try to limit it though.

    Thanks, Jim

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