Thursday, December 11, 2008


"Words are useless. Especially sentences."
-- Madonna, "Bedtime Story"

Bjork, who wrote that song for Madonna's 1994 opus, Bedtime Stories, may have had a point. Check out this MSN conversation I had last weekend with a new casual acquaintance (who shall now be referred to as NCA).

NCA: Hello, Dolly! [I know, cute.]
Me: Hello!
NCA: What's up?
Me: Not much.

I guess my stock response to "What's up?", which pretty much everyone I know uses unless something's actually, well, up, wasn't good enough? Or maybe this Brazilian who had previously proven himself to be quite fluent in English didn't fully understand what he was asking--or what he was saying afterwards. At any rate, NCA then made some snarky comeback about how he supposed that I was in another mood. (I had been less than chatty the previous day, due to a migraine from hell that sent me to bed well before nightfall.) When I called him on his passive-aggression, he launched into a diatribe about my attitude and how I don't know him well enough to label his behavior passive-aggressive. I remained uncharacteristically calm. Maybe it was my still-pounding head. Or perhaps the fact that I didn't care that much what he thought of me.

But I didn't keep my opinion to myself. Not only was his behavior making me not want to know him any better, but since when does one have to be bosom buddies with someone to recognize their passive-aggressive behavior? Furthermore, who knew that "What's up?" was a cue to initiate a deep, meaningful discourse on the meaning of life? In the immortal words of New Radicals, you get what you give, and does such an inane cipher of a question deserve anything better than "Not much"?

The funny thing is that back in college, my friend Dave and I used to make fun of certain people we knew who when under the influence of certain drugs--and sometimes when not--could never contribute anything more to conversations that those two unmagical words, "What's up?", which they repeated ad nauseum even after recieving an answer. Today, it's just as annoying a conversation-starter, and the Spanish equivalent, "¿Qué contás?", and its only slightly less-eyeball-roll-inducing cousin, "¿Qué hacías?", don't exactly inspire much from me along the lines of a meaningful response.

My bottom line, which I shared with NCA: People resort to these "buzz" questions because they really don't have anything to say, so they put all the pressure on you. NCA and I eventually straightened out our differences, but I don't expect to hear from him anytime soon, which suits me just fine.

In case you were wondering, NCA is only 20, but to prove that poor communication skills is not wasted on the young, here is a story involving another new casual acquaintance (NCA II), age 38, a fellow New Yorker expatriate. Friday afternoon, NCA II invited me to Heaven, a new BA club about which I am writing for Time Out Buenos Aires and promised to introduce me to Germán, a PR bigwig there who would give me a tour of the place and the full-on VIP treatment. Our appointed meeting time: 2am. I showed up promptly--incidentally, with NCA. To NCA II's credit, I was on Germán's guest list. But two hours later, there still was no sign of NCA II. I left with John, my friend from New York whom I had randomly run into at Glam the night before, and went to Amerika. (NCA stayed behind at Heaven.) So much for the tour and the VIP thing. I'd have to use my imagination when it came time to write. But I did wonder what had happened to NCA II. Was it something I said?

Apparently, not. On Tuesday, NCA II sent me an instant message asking if I ever ended up going to Heaven. Before I could ask where he had been, he apologized for not making it. He said he had been invited at the last minute to spend the weekend out in the country, which, I suppose, precluded him from phoning me or sending me an IM or a text message letting me know that he wouldn't be going. I appreciated his apology but not enough to forgive the fact that he didn't seem to realize how spectacularly inconsiderate his negligence had been. I never called him on it because, you know, I'm kind of over calling people on their rudeness. Thanks, NCA!

But it's nice to know that it's not just porteños who have frequent lapses of social etiquette. (I'm still waiting for AC servicio técnico, which was supposed to arrive last Friday morning between 10 and noon to look into why my unit is making so much noise and have neither shown up nor called.) Small talk, simple minds and chronic bad behavior are international maladies for which, at the moment, there seems to be no cure.

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