SMOKE: Antisocial Communication

Originally published: 10 August 2005

I was at brunch with my brother on Women's Day and he narrated an hilarious story from his weekend.

He's the drummer in a Cape Town band and they supported a local boy band act the other night. They met one of the guys from the boy band backstage before the gig started and this dude was the definitive up-and-coming metrosexual music professional.

My boet said the dude came up to greet him full of positive energy and charm, flicked his gorgeous mane to the side and stuck out his hand in greeting. He was way too overly affectionate for a first time greeting.

Full of the joys of clean living and high on the drug that is life, he pumped my brother's hand enthusiastically and with great vigour, while declaring how delighted and charmed and so forth he was to be meeting such a music legend.

My brother is only in his second year at varsity and while he's an immensely talented bloke and no doubt worth millions to the family in future, even he is hard-pressed to describe himself as a rock god and one of world music's living legends.

But you know the type - they get right up into your face and personal space and behave as though you are the answer to all their prayers. Their enthusiasm at being in your presence is overwhelming and their positivity would shame anyone who's ever had a gripe about anything.

I mean - how did this guy know my brother hadn't shagged his sister? Or written an Internet blog about how crap he is? I don't understand how you can be delighted by somebody you've never met, especially if you have no real idea who they are.

Metro Boy asked my brother a question and as my brother started speaking MB's eyes started shifting, scanning the room. My boet discovered he was talking but nobody was listening, so he shut up.

MB eventually realised he'd stopped answering the question and hurriedly shifted his gaze back to my brother, looking at him as though he had no idea who he was.

"OK, buddy, well, great! Take care now, OK?"

And before my brother could open his mouth MB was gone, leaving a faint hint of some girly cologne on the air as he minced off to spread his golden lovin' aroun'.

I'd never even heard of the boy band, but here was an overly clean, simpering image puppet behaving as though he was the answer to most people's dreams.

Far more important was the bit about him shifting his eyes about while my brother was talking, which is something that makes me see red.

It happened to Tashi at the weekend. We were at a party with friends and sitting around a table chatting to someone on the other side of the table (and I was scoffing down great handfuls of feta, biltong and peppadews - a very agreeable combination of sensations).

The chick on the other side said something to Tashi and started listening as Tashi began answering, but then I saw her eyes shift to some commotion that was happening in the kitchen and I could see she wasn't hearing a word Tashi was saying.

Tashi finished her sentence then stood up abruptly, almost knocking the cream cheese on Melba toast flying, and loudly and brashly stated that she was going outside for a cigarette.

I said I'd join her, because that's the beauty of marriage or a long-lasting relationship - you get to know your partner inside out. To everyone else at the table Tashi was merely done speaking and was now energetically off for a smokie, but I knew better.

As soon as we got outside I looked at her, she looked at me, and we both understood what was going on. Then we started ranting and raving.

It's just so damn rude. I can't abide it. And I'm seeing it more and more - far more than I can ever remember having seen it.

Listening to someone - and giving them your undivided attention - is a basic social skill, and it's swirling down the drain with so many other interaction abilities.

I've ranted before at length about poor service and that comes down to social skills as well. You won't believe how many times I go into a shop and am greeted with nothing but a surly scowl and outright rudeness.

I understand working behind a shop counter is a crap job if it's not your passion, and I understand that you're getting paid too little to really give a shit.

But greeting someone with a smile has got nothing to do with customer service - it's a basic human skill. It's something you learn when growing up. Even if you didn't learn it growing up, surely you can see that it's a more effective and better way of doing things?

I have a very deep voice, and often people don't hear what I'm saying because it's harder to project your voice at lower ends of the scale. But you won't believe how many people go "What?" or "Hey?" with an exaggerated expression of confusion on their faces, as though I've just screwed up their entire day and life.

What happened to "Pardon" or "Excuse me?" or even "Could you please repeat that"? And what's with this new trend of showing your irritation and bad mood with absolutely no concern for how it makes you or the place you work at look?

Social skills have gone to shit, man. The Rude and The Disinterested - that's what I'd call my soap opera. The characters would all be oafs who make a pre-Henry Higgins Eliza Doolittle seem like a cultured, tasteful blue-blood in comparison, and they would all share one brain cell.

The worst is that many don't even have the excuse that they simply don't care - they're totally unaware of how rude they are being, which suggests the basic skill is not there at all.

Where's that skill gone? Have parents stopped teaching it? Are we seeing a new way of communicating being born - one which strips out consideration from any social engagement between two people, in much the same way as movie actors never say goodbye on the telephone? It's superfluous; therefore do away with it?

I don't need anyone to love me, man, but a smile and a soft word beats Pig-Face and her couldn't-give-a-shit-about-myself-or-life attitude hands down, I find.

Giving me your attention when I'm speaking is merely a sign of respect - if you don't give me your attention I'll take it that you have zero respect for me, and I will afford you the same amount of respect back.

Then we'll all just be nasty, self-serving, miserable little bastards to one another, in a repeating cycle of tit-for-tat and self-preservation.

I'm sorry Louis - can you repeat that? It's a wonderful what?

All Smoked Out,
Luke Tagg
Spending time online does bad things to a person, but I'm OK.

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