March 11, 2009

Status displays, and authenticity.

The day before yesterday, I was drinking with my girlfriend in a winebar about thirty seconds from our home. This wine bar, whose utterly forgettable name is nowhere to be seen on the shop front, is a standing room only place. Everyone is huddled around the rectangular counter so drinking there has a a cosy communal feel.

On this occasion we found ourselves next to two middle aged Americans, in their mid to late forties.

A man and a woman, both were attractive, and dressed with the kind of slovenly elegance, popular among creative marketing types and the more dapper members of academia.

As my girlfriend was munching her excellent Tomato spaghetti I overheard much of their conversation. It was an exceptionally graceful, grown-up sort of conversation.
I gathered that they were in Hiroshima on business of sort but in what field I couldn't really tell.
The man in particular held forth on a range of topics; Experimental Jazz, the underratedness of South African wine, American fiscal policy, Darwinian evolution, and its applicability to financial markets, the influence of Hinduism on the political and economic development of India. The woman interjected frequently with insightful observations of her own on every subject. Impressively the transition between each subject was completely natural and fluid. Listening to them was akin to watching a pair of figure skaters gliding across the ice. Like butterflies they never alit anywhere for long but fluttered gracefully onto the next topic once they had demonstrated their mastery of the previous one to each other.

I suppose there is such a thing as a technical excellence in conversation, much as there is in a golf swing or a swimming style. I also suspect that there was some unconsumated sexual attraction between the two. Familiarity between men and women seems to quickly degrade the technical quality of their conversation, as impression management gives way to affection. Had they been husband and wife I am sure their discussion would have been far less enjoyable for me to listen to.

As me and my girlfriend left the wine bar I began to wonder about the authenticity of their interests.
Did the man really love south african wine and French cinema? Maybe he prefers Budweiser and lesbian pornography. There is no way to know.

In a way asking about sincerity in this context is missing the point a little. The purpose of the such an exchange is to demonstrate a mastery of social cues, erudition and intelligence. The subjects at hand are merely the tools by which this is accomplished.

I couldn't help wonder though. I am not particularly nostalgic for my childhood. All things considered, being an adult has been the more enjoyable state for me.

Nevertheless a child's interest in subjects is rarely feigned. If a 6 year old tells me how he feels about his favorite Toys, we are having a genuine meeting of minds. He is sharing a part of his inner world.

Game playing is typically associated with children, but in the social realm adults seem to be far more avid game players than children.


Anonymous said...

hello thoughtful ape. i just wanted to say that i enjoyed reading this post. i found it, erm, thought-provoking. will you write more?

Perry de Havilland said...

"Did the man really love south african wine and French cinema? Maybe he prefers Budweiser and lesbian pornography. There is no way to know."

My inamorata and I read this and howled with laughter. She also pointed out they none of those are actually incompatible with a well rounded personality... well, maybe not Budweiser, unless you mean *real* (i.e. Czech) Budweiser.