Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Kindly spare me the details

Minutiae, oh how I hate it. I’ve never been one to get bogged down in the finer details or spend an especially long time dotting i’s or crossing t’s -much to the chagrin of my former employers. Instead I tell myself I’m a concept person, all about the big picture, the big idea and the bottom line. Of course there have got to be box tickers lurking around behind the scenes making sure all the various admin gets done, papers filed and so forth. But let’s be honest, who really wants to hear about that?

I doubt you’ll see a new glam TV show premiering soon chronicling the trials, tribulations and love trysts of a bunch of office assistants. Not exactly cliffhanger material; Joe Public is highly unlikely to tune in each week to discover if that stationery order did come in on time and whether in fact there were enough green biros in it. No, instead we want to know about life and death, courtroom dramas and what the thin, pretty, suntanned girls from somewhere wealthy in California have chosen as the theme for their next school prom.

So we’re agreed, life’s little tedious things exist and have to be done but people are not interested in knowing all about them. Or are they? I can only assume the answer to be yes, as everywhere I look, turn or listen someone is either banging on about their lives in mind-numbing detail or worse still, encouraging me to talk about it. There’s small talk which I’m fairly partial to. Life’s too short and too tiring for big talk all the time. A gentle bit of conversation about not very much, especially with someone you don’t know terribly well, is a civilised way of interacting. However, there’s got to be a line or at least a sliding scale. What I’m complaining about here is the minniest, teeny-tiniest of talk. Chatter that makes discussing the weather look positively highbrow.

I’m sure anyone who has ever had the misfortune to work in an office has encountered one of the worst culprits of this horrid phenomenon: one half of an overly communicative couple. This is the person who rings their co-conspirator at lunch time (which they spend sitting at their desk surfing the internet and always look noticeably awkward when you invite them to the pub). The conversation, which is held in a whispery voice (you may well be ashamed of yourself), goes along the following lines: “What are you having?” Pause. “A sandwich.” Pause. “Tuna.” Pause. “Cucumber.” Pause. “Chocolate bar.” Pause. “Kit Kat. What are you having after yours?” Kill me, kill me now, or at least tie my arms so I can’t seize the telephone receiver and batter them to death with it before explaining down the line what I’ve done, blow by blood-spattering blow.

Since when did true love mean recounting the finer points of every morsel of food you’ve eaten that day? Or in fact ever? If that’s not bad enough then there is the person who questions you about the downright mundane, forcing you to come up with something to say about which there is nothing. “How was the supermarket?” this person will ask as you march back in with a carrier bag in your hand. It was a supermarket: irritating in its own right but also handy as it sells food. Then it moves onto: “Did you get anything nice?” Before you know it, you’re going through the plan for tonight’s dinner as if it were a military operation. 19.12: turn oven on to 180˚C, and so on.

And the whole time I’m thinking to myself that the other person cannot possibly be genuinely interested in my responses to these questions and is therefore either buttering me up for some truly horrible favour or having a bet with someone over how long they can keep me gibbering away. Either way, my gut instinct is to get the hell out of there and run for the hills.

If, by some miracle, you’ve survived the whole day of such torment, then it continues on the way home. Get people on a train armed with a mobile phone and they love to ring home (the place they will be in about half an hour) and go through every single tedious, uninteresting thing that happened to them. The outcome of the marketing meeting, how someone double booked a meeting room and what Jo from Accounts thinks of their new hairstyle ... and so it incessantly continues. In short: verbal torture against the eardrums of other hardworking, tired people who do not give a damn about your day.

Small talkers extraordinaire, please, stop invading the commutes of others with information you can easily discuss when in the privacy of your own home instead of instinctively turning the TV on and proceeding to ignore each other all evening. Or, maybe spend your journey reading a newspaper or a book so you’ve actually got something of interest to discuss. Or even better, meditate for a little while on why you’re so empty and needy you have to fill every waking moment with stream of babble about nothing very much. Read more by Rosie.