Monday, March 8, 2010

The History of Paying Attention

Many of us city dwellers tend to avoid all the people that we don't know. When someone strikes up a conversation with us, we think "Ah, but I don't know you." And we find ways to end the conversation, but on occasion if we see fit, we find reasons to keep the conversation going.

Well an occasion came yesterday in regards to conversations popping up with people we don't know. I was starving and being the irresponsible being that I am, I had no proper food in the house to consume. My refrigerator looked rather bleak. So, I went out to fetch a salad.

I went down to a coffee shop and inquired if the cashier preferred the Chinese salad or the Greek salad. He recommended Chinese, I blindly trusted him and I ordered the Chinese salad. I was about to be quite smarmy and time how long the salad took (So I could think to myself "Hey, I've been waiting 5.654 minutes!" but I decided I needed to learn patience, so I resisted that very strong urge).

I looked around the place looking for a place to sit when a gentleman approached me and said I may share his table, as there is room for two and there was no other available seats. I sat down at this table with this gentleman who was working on a macbook pro. We made small talk and he told me he was an artist. I raised my eyebrows in amusement. We watched someone spill coffee all over the counter and he said "that is someone you don't plan." I was in agreement with that statement. Then my salad came. I looked at it, foamed with excitement at attacking it and began to enthusiastically eat it. I chomped loudly, and I do feel sorry for the poor gentleman I was sitting next to me. He probably saw nothing but flying pieces of lettuce accompanied by an almond or two, a fork moving madly in motion and the sound of a very strong jaw in full force. Perhaps behind all this there was a face, but if so, it was only a blur. After a remarkably short period of time time, the gentleman said to me "How is your salad?" I replied that it was delicious and he said that I was eating it rather vigorously. I was. (Hey! That's what happens when you don't eat for five hours, okay? alright then!)

Then we continued to engage in smalltalk and he asked me if I liked to cook. I told him that I did and then he asked me what. I then went into a long, detailed and drawn out discourse on a quinoa dish I enjoy making, (as I have a Peruvian friend who told me the secret [I would tell you the secret, but then, it wouldn't be a secret anymore, now would it?]). I enthusiastically told him how savory it is and that really, it's so simple to make. After sometime, he looked at me and said: "What's quinoa?"

This got me to thinking (something I recommend one does only with the utmost caution). We understand our own worlds perfectly clearly, but other people cannot necessarily understand ours. To me, quinoa is an ordinary grain, something that I assume everyone knows about. (sigh yawn and double ho-hum). To him, quinoa? What's that?

So this patient artist listened to me ramble on about how good quinoa is if you cook it this way. But, it was a waste of time, as he didn't actually know what quinoa was. The moral of this rambling is this: don't assume people know exactly what you're talking about. They don't. They have no idea what you're going on about. Be clear. Be explicitly clear.