uschapters
Hard times in New York Town

Woman telling a stranger about her baby's exhibitionism

Behaving: How to talk to people you don’t know


So here is a summary of what I learned in terms of behavioural rules (yes, I am thinking shifting to sociology, that bores the hell out of my husband)

So THE thing that puzzled me the most is the “hi how are you”. According to the European rules, this is supposed to be a purely rhetorical question: unless you just lost your mother and you are talking to your best friend, you simply answer “fine, thanks”. Well, not exactly.

Example 1. In the elevator. It is 8:24 precisely. I am fighting with Charlotte so she finally accepts to put her shoes on. Concomitantly I yell at Nayla who just pressed all the buttons. A neighbour (whom I have never met) enters the elevator.

Me (focused on the shoes): hi, how are you?

Her: my dad just died in a car accident in Florida. I have to leave to Florida.

Me (nervous laughter): Oh shit ! ben euh, sorry.

At the beginning, I thought it was just a close encounter of the third kind, with no relationship at all to the US.

After several unwanted stories about miscarriages and disgusting sicknesses, I thought that maybe I looked so nice that people would confide anything to my kind ears.

Turns out people just like to talk to strangers.

I guess I must sound slightly superior, like the typical French who thinks the idea is absurd, but I often find it cool. For example, it allows you to acknowledge that your tiny problems are universal (always more rewarding than simply reading it in Vanity Fair). Plus you also can let off steam. I only done it once: I told one neighbour at the park that I sometimes hated my kids. She seemed to have the same problem. It felt good.

I identified two possible kinds of answers, because sometimes, at 8:24 AM, you have to be straightforward.

Answer 1:hugging. It took me a year, but I have become a master in hugging. Free hug whenever you want.

Answer 2: The “No. Me too!!” rule. Which obviously works better when it is plausible, but honestly, it often is (my kid had a bronchiolitis and I was scared/ my boyfriend is a stupid macho / I also have money-job-couple issues).

Unfortunately, sometimes none of those answers is practicable.

Example 2 (yesterday). An impressive and nice black guy, on the street. “oh you have two girls! how cute! I have four”.

Me (nicely): oh yeah?

Him: yep. But it’s too late to have a boy. You know, I am a Vietnam war veteran. I got all kinds of diseases there, I am heavily handicapped and I suffer diabetes. And of course, I am too old.

Me (nervous laughter): Oh shit ! ben euh, sorry.

us chapters

us chapters

Leave a Comment