(Published in The Friday Times, on October 17, 2014, retrieved from http://www.thefridaytimes.com/tft/you-dont-say/)
Picture Courtesy: The Friday Times
When I was a child, my mother worried that I would not ever make friends. In kindergarten, I didn’t wave goodbye to people. “They pinch my cheeks,” I used to explain. In elementary school, I ignored people who called out to say bye. “All they do in class is talk,” I used to explain. In middle school, I was never recruited into a gang – now, these gangs were essentially groups of boys and girls who shared lunch and gave themselves ridiculous and usually alliterative names, like, say, ‘Back-bench Blazers’ or ‘Right-wall Rockets’, based on where they sat in the classroom. In high school, I managed to make conversation with a few people, and even invited them home – an experience which taught me never to be the host, because you spend most of your time fetching food and water. In college, I shunned the even more pathetic all-girl gangs, until I found myself banded into a pleasant lot of fellow-misfits.
I thought I was not made for friendships. I shudder at the idea of people double dipping into each other’s food. I balk at the idea of having to ‘plan’ outings to the movies, and wait for people to schedule it in.
But, then, I discovered that what I had was an allergy to Conversation Hogs.
These are people who will go on and on about themselves, even in a group of six. When everyone gradually gives up trying to get a word in, this grand, self-obsessed speaker will assume that it is not out of listlessness, but out of enthralment with what he or she is saying. It does not strike the Hog that no one could possibly care about what his or her nephew or pet poodle did, or why he or she had a fight with the spouse. It probably does not matter to the Hog who is punishing us with a long-winded, oral film review that he or she has already lost everyone at, “So, I watched Haider...”
Unfortunately, at some point in my adulthood, I began to make the acquaintance of Conversation Hogs, and have been spending the better part of a year trying to shake them off.
The problem with people like me is that our boredom is often mistaken for speechless fascination with the subject at hand. And, for people who like to talk, there is no company that is more agreeable than people who don’t like to talk. The fact that you don’t like to listen either is of no account, because – to them – as long as you don’t get up and leave, declaring “This conversation is too dull for me to continue”, or hang up the phone, you’re an audience for their monologues.
I avoid eating at restaurants. It’s become rather easy, these days, since everyone is so into health. “I don’t eat outside,” you can say, and, after your interlocutor indulges himself or herself in a half-hour homily on how he or she has become health-conscious too, you’re let off the phone.
But, it’s trickier to avoid phone calls.
Often, I pretend that I have a sore throat so that I don’t have to pick up calls. However, though my throat is fairly susceptible to infection, there are times when I am not ill. And, after a week of people anxiously texting to ask “How’s your throat now?”, I do have to maintain my credibility by assuring them I’m not down with a superbug.
The worst is when you return from a trip.
“Tell me all about London!”
“We have to meet and talk about Paris!”
“So, are you back from Dubai?”
You make the courtesy call. All is well, you say, you’re just jetlagged, and will talk in a while. The interlocutor has no intention of heeding that. He or she will take off on the last word you spoke – ‘jetlagged’, and tell you about how long the jetlag from each trip on which he or she has been lasted. An hour later, drained, you hang up.
Within days, there’s that dreaded message again: “Are you over jetlag now?”
Right. So, you think, you’ll speak about the Eiffel Tower for five minutes and get it over with. But then, you didn’t realise that asking you about Paris was essentially an excuse for the Conversation Hog to start pontificating on his or her visit to New York.
Not only am I reticent in the presence of a Hog, I also dislike interrupting almost as much as I dislike being interrupted.
Eventually, I worked out a solution. I would not stop talking if someone were to interrupt. I would go on and finish my sentence, and then search for something else – anything else, even garbled sentences – and yap so much that the Hog would become the Hogged.
So far, my parallel talking record has been two whole minutes, before the Hog gave up.
I am happy to report that I have not met a single person whom I did not want to meet in the last week, and I have had to screen fewer than ten calls.