One of my rare nights out, last night, ended in the usual way: in a noisy Dublin bar, with the colleagues I arrived with to my right, engaged in an inpenetrable shop-talk session. Another closed group of people to my left, whom I had been introduced to earlier, fully absorbed in a mutual self-congratulation session. Not one of the party displayed even the slightest general social skils. How hard is it to notice that someone in your party is sat there by himself, staring at the wall, wondering whether he should bother to inform people that he is going home?
A typical response to that might be something like “stop feeling sorry for yourself, get involved in the conversation”. Well, I tried that, and the other person reacted as if I’d just shot her, before asking me to repeat myself twice further, over the noise. I was hardly feeling sorry for myself; bloody furious is a more accurate description. Once again, I found myself in a position where coming in from the cold would require me to explain basic social graces to people, and I frankly can’t be bothered any more. Am I really getting so old?
Here’s a short explanation of what I’m talking about: when you’re in a party of people, it’s common courtesy to think about every member of the party. The amount of work involved depends on your role; e.g. for the hostess of a party it’s practically a job, but it will be much less so to a member of an informal group. A key point is to recognise that you are in a party of people; it might not be the party you arrived with, or would choose to be with, but consider it a test of your social skills to make the de facto party in to a real party, and to keep it that way for as long as the party is together.
If your party has wallflowers, or gooseberries, your party has failed. (A “gooseberry” by my definition is someone in a party who didn’t arrive with a partner, and feels left out of proceedings as a result of that.) It doesn’t matter who they are, or what their personality is like (shy, obnoxious, deaf); my view every member of a party has some measure of responsibility (however tiny) towards making whole the party a success. I’ve made it sound terribly serious and burdensome, but I’ve been in parties where that kind of thing seems to happen naturally, without any sense that it’s forced, or anything but a pleasure to all concerned. The “recovering nerd” in me relishes these little social skills, but it’s hard for me to apply them when I’m the gooseberry in question.
Meanwhile, back at work, my aim of going a year without any plane trips may soon be thwarted; I’ve been asked to attend a training course in the USA, near Denver, Colorado. It’s not fully approved, and nothing is booked yet, but it’s only ten days away. That would be four flights, with one change each way, but there are further complications; it’s “train the trainer”, so going there will almost certainly lead to a return trip to Bangalore, to give a less-advanced version of training on the product in question. Four more flights.
While in the USA, the timing is such that I could easily make it to SXSW Interactive, the annual culture and technology festival in Austin, Texas, with near-perfect timing. I’m not keen on travelling, and definitely not keen on seeing the US Homeland Security Theater on its home stage, but SXSW might let me make that sow’s ear in to a purse of some distinction. That’s two more flights: I did look at the possibility of taking the Greyhound, but that’s a 48-hour round trip.