In my blog bio, I say that one of the things I dislike is people who lack the ability to edit. An anecdote doesn’t have to be perfectly crafted, and it doesn’t even have to have a great punchline, but it really shouldn’t bore me. When you’re telling me about the fabulous new restaurant you went to, please leave out of your story what time you left home, how long it took to find a taxi, and how long you had to queue outside the restaurant. In the tale of your mind-blowing seven-course tasting menu, these details are irrelevant. And, if you insist on telling me all, please note my body language: not looking you in the eye, twiddling my thumbs, whistling, getting up to go to the toilet. If we are on the phone, the verbal tics indicating that I am fondly remembering the scones I once had in Upper Whallop in 1972 – and not listening to you – would be: sighing, long silences, no warm “ahas” and the sound of the TV remote control at work. Clues, people, clues. Receive them, and act accordingly.
I have had many bruising sessions of Too Much Information. However, during these long years of having my body language ignored by people who love the sound of their own voices, I have had the time to devise My Guide to Bores.
The first is The Pedagogue. The Pedagogue loves to teach and uses every social situation to fill other people up with his or her learning. So accustomed to hearing his or her voice in the classroom, or training-room, or university tutorial, The Pedagogue believes every occasion is a chance to share knowledge. And, accustomed to pupils shuffling papers and picking their teeth with staples, The Pedagogue will ignore all signals that his or her audience (of one, two or twenty) is bored rigid.
The second is Details. Details believes that no story is complete without times, dates and verbatim reports of what people said. A report from – I hesitate to call it a conversation – Details will go something like this: “And so she said she would pick me up at nine on Tuesday, but I had to go to the supermarket first, so by the time I got home it was nine-fifteen, and she was waiting in her car outside my house and she said, ‘Hurry up, we’re going to be late’ and I said, ‘Just let me throw some make-up on’ and she said, ‘OK but make it snappy.’ So I went upstairs and I thought I would change, but I couldn’t find my new jeans anywhere. I turned the washbasket upside-down and found them at the bottom, but they were smelly, and by then it was already nine-thirty, and then she called from the car to say where the hell are you, and I said I was just changing. She said hurry up, so I put on my old jeans and threw on some lipstick and just brushed my hair really fast, but by the time I got the car it was nine-thirty five and so we were late for the movie.”
In the pantheon of bores, there lurks The Enthusiast. The Enthusiast has a single hobby or interest, which is arcane to the rest of the world, but infinitely fascinating to him or her. No matter how hard you try to lead the conversation to new and uncharted waters, The Enthusiast will try just as hard to return it back to his or her safe haven. Whether it is clay-pigeon shooting, advances in prosthetic limb technology or the invention of the Kreepy-Krawly, the Enthusiast will direct your comment that you still haven’t decide whether you would support Obama or Hillary if you lived in the US straight back to birds, limbs or pools. No straying is tolerated with the Enthusiast.
Another type is The Entertainer. This is the person who the first time you meet him or her, you think, “Hilarious! What funny stories! I’ve never laughed so much!” The next time you encounter the Entertainer, you hear the stories again. You come away thinking, “Whoops, she must have forgotten that she’s told me those already. But what a hoot!” The third time you meet this person, you realise Those Are Her Stories.
A fifth is The Narcissist. Much like the Enthusiast, the Narcissist likes to grab a theme by the coat-tails and milk it for all it is worth. However, unlike the Enthusiast, the Narcissist’s favourite topic is wide-ranging, engrossing and infinitely fascinating in all its aspects, for of course the Narcissist is in love with him or herself. Any conversational gambit of yours will be met with “When I …”, “Of course, my feeling is …” or “I always say …”
To the bores, I say this:
- Read your audience. If they are yawning broadly, have a desperate look in their eyes or have slumped over in their chairs, chances are you are boring them.
- Ask questions. When the person responds, try asking them another question and even a third. You’ll be surprised by how refreshing it is. (For the Pedagogues out there, don’t for God’s sake, ask, “Do you understand me?”. You will be whipped upside the head.)
- Employ your edit facility. You may have lost it, but for the sake of the rest of us, seek it out, dust it off and put it to good use.
- Put yourself in someone else’s shoes. When someone makes a comment, instead of relating it back to yourself, try saying, “That must have been wonderful/hard/challenging/hilarious for you.” You might even make a friend.
That would be my rant over. However, if you want to read more on sexist bores, then Rebecca Solnit’s article Men Explain Things to Me: Facts Didn’t Get in Their Way (which I found via the F-Word Blog) is superb.