(…and why it will never be used)
In our last International Negotiation class, our professor told us about a job he once had in politics, where to find out how his behaviour was affecting his work, he got an intern to follow him round with a pocket cassette recorder and tape everything he said. He discovered that most of the things he said were amazingly tactless and rude. The upshot was he got out of politics, and years later gave us the advice that you should always listen to what you say, and try to change it if it doesn’t fit the situation. The weekend’s fun and games brought that anecdote into sharp relief.
Going to Osaka on Friday on the spur of the moment, we ended up staying out all night. While very fun, this deprives me of the beauty sleep I need so much. Because when I don’t get enough sleep, I get angry. Very angry.
I vaguely remember drunkenly slurring my way through vague but ferocious denunciations of the many women who have wronged me in my life. I remember saying astoundingly rude things to the two friends I was out with. I remember shouting and banging the table in a Yoshinoya at half-five in the morning, and seeing the guy behind the counter flit past with a look of sheer terror on his face. I had done it. I had become the big, loud, scary gaijin of Japanese stereotype. I’m glad I didn’t bring a tape recorder with me, and I will probably never end up doing so, even when I’m sober and well-behaved. Dredging up vague recollections of the things I said is horrifying enough. Reliving it on tape would probably finish me off.
Fortunately, my worst behaviour often gets written off by those on the recieving end, and we went out again on Saturday evening. The group of us comprised me, the pint-sized Mexican sex fiend, and another guy who I’ll call “Bob”, because he looks like he should be called Bob. Bob was not a good conversationalist. Anything you said, he would automatically take as a cue to start rambling on some pet topic of his, which would invariably be a) astoundingly boring, and b) completely unrelated to anything you said. In every conversation with him, you’d find yourself frantically trying to get away within the first couple of minutes.
Case in point: at another bar yesterday evening, he was in full flow. One monologue about his love of German beer would give way to one about his German heritage, then about a black beer he’d tried once that was too dark, then he switched his attention to the bottle of Thai beer that he held in his hand. Studying the red star at the centre of the label, he turned to me and said: “Oh yeah, red is an important colour. Across Asia, it means life, vitality, that kind of thing.”
Suddenly, that was enough for me. I was sick of this bore, sick of his bargain-basement insights that he had probably half-remembered from something he once saw on the Discovery channel. And I was sick of all the other one-semester wonders like him that clogged up the campus, trying to paint themselves as experts, regurgitating all the mysteries-of-the-Orient cliches that I’d got equally sick of a long time ago. It wasn’t so much the content of Bob’s remark that got to me, but the ridiculous generalisation in “Asia”, the transparent point-scoring of it (“look at me! I know soooo much more about Asia than you!”), and the fact that it followed half an hour of equally transparent point-scoring. I let him have it. I can’t remember exactly what I said, but the words “You know nothing! I hope you kill yourself from shame” bob to the surface.
Seeking relief, I escaped from our table and wandered the tiny bar. I talked to everyone, Japanese, gaijin, longtime expats and visitors who were here for a week. In fact, the only person I really struck out with was the most beautiful girl in the bar (of course), to whom I addressed some standard plasantry as an opening for a conversation … and then completely froze up. We stood there staring at each other, she gave a little embarrassed laugh, and I decided to cut my losses and move on.
Talking to people is something I like to do, and when I do it I learn things, benefit from the experience of others and make connections that weren’t there before. To do so simply to ramble about your own concerns and try to get one over on other people is pointless. Pointless underlined, in italics. The upshot of all this? I insult and mock in my head far more than I do out loud. But occasionally, I let it all out. I tell that fat girl in the horrible top that “I didn’t know floral prints were in for the amazingly badly-dressed girl this season”. I tell people to their faces that I’m not interested in that boring anecdote. I do sparingly, though, because once I realise I can get away with it, wouldn’t it be just so tempting to do it all the time? And if I did, how would I ever stop?
Maybe I am just a very unpleasant person. But I don’t think of myself as one. So I have to keep the unpleasantness under wraps, because if the bad stuff is actually the real me, I’d prefer not to think about it. The tape recorder stays turned off.