Thursday, December 7, 2006

Out of context

Everyone has probably had the experience of making eye contact with an acquaintance, only to have that person quickly avert his or her gaze to avoid having to make social contact. Then both tacitly adopt the conceit that we did not really see each other.

Waitresses are people too. We do not evaporate up the fry hood after each shift. We shop for groceries, we walk our dogs, we stop in for coffee, we go to plays and concerts, we meet friends, we enjoy our hobbies.

Maybe I am particularly sensitive to this avoidance gesture, but I find it degrading, perhaps because it is weighted with presumptions of the (lack of) esteem in which service persons are held.

Once, while shopping for household items, I encountered a regular customer who previously had chatted me up virtually every evening for weeks after he was relocated to this town. Our eyes locked for a second as we pushed our carts. I smiled with an upbeat hello. He effected the avoidance move. He was with his wife (who had just moved here).

I expected him to, at a minimum, do the head bob of recognition. Optimal would be to introduce me to his wife. Instead, he pretended he did not see me.

Me, somewhat loudly: "Are you pretending you don't know me?" I was miffed. More than miffed.

I extended my hand and introduced myself to his wife, who was gracious.

At the cafe, this man had shared every manner of detail about his life: his bariatric surgery, his years of truck driving, his service as a volunteer firefighter, the series of events leading to his ownership of a lakeside vacation home, infinitestimal details of his new job at an oil company dispatch yard. Very friendly.

The man liked to talk. Definitely did not like to listen, ignoring me when I had the temerity to even offer a small comment here and there on the subject of his life. Outside the confines of cafe, when I could not function as the receptacle of his verbal outflow, apparently he did not feel any need to acknowledge me.

Of course, it's a reflection on him, not on me. But I'm still annoyed.

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