Friday, 14 March 2014

Modern Ritual

A few years ago I discovered the term AMBIVERT, and it fits me to a T.

An ambivert is neither an extrovert nor an introvert, but a person who is comfortable with (and needs) both reflective alone alone and social connection/attention. Ambiverts are apparently quite rare, and quite difficult to accomodate, because they mess with everyone's expectations and stereotypes.

One of the problems with an ambivert is that we are extroverted enough to like being with people, talking to them, enjoying their company, and introverted enough to have absolute zero interest in - or tolerance with - smalltalk. This makes us appear rather snotty and rude. So we end up playing along for the sake of the feelings of others. It drives me bonkers.

We have these rituals in society, you see. When we meet someone we have sort of scripted conversations. It's complete bollocks. One of the things we says is "How Are You?". I know I'm not alone in finding this totally stupid, because nobody ever tells the truth. Mostly we say "Fine Thank You" because that is the correct response. Never mind what ails us, never mind our real misery or joy, that's neither here not there. This is not a real question, so it doesn't get a real answer.

It's bad enough when someone who genuinely cares asks it, but all too often it's robotic, from the clerk at the supermarket checkout or the bank. She's been trained to say "How are you today?" to every damn customer as part of her greeting, and because we have no desire to discuss our private lives with her EVEN if we were just diagnosed with a terminal illness we'd feel obliged to say "Fine thank you." It's completely and utterly ridiculous.

But in some places, it has gone a step further. In some social circles the correct response to "How are you?" is actually "How are you?" The two most famous versions of this are the old "How do you do" and the western corruption of it "Howdy". You answer the question with a question and that's the first part of the ritual completed.

What a load of bollocks.

So old fashioned. Isn't it. No. It's not.

There's a modern equivalent - "Wassap". Yep. Exactly the same principle. A question that is not answered and is in fact replied to with the same question. Every bit as stupid as the Victorians.

When I run into somebody I don't ask how they are, unless I have a good reason to do so. If I know they've been ill, or had surgery, or recently lost a relative or job, I will GENUINELY enquire for their welfare, using words appropriate to the actual situation. And LISTEN to the reply. I'll take time to discuss THAT with them, because it's real.

Usually my greeting is something along the lines of how good it is to see you. Which is the truth. We'll get to news later, and actually talk about it.

It happens online too. I have resorted to giving a weather report to stop it in it's tracks, it's still a waste of time but it nips it in the bud.

Oh, but if only that was it and it was all over. No. No. No. How many times have you run into someone you know well but don't like much and had to do the extended version? You know the one. How's Sue? How's Eddie? How are the twins? How's the work on the new house going? How's Jeremy getting on in college? How's Gord's new job? Fine. Fine. Fine. Oh fine. Fine thanks.

Inside, your brain is going GET ME OUT OF HERE THIS IS BORING.

Because you don't care. Because if you did, you'd have made the effort to contact them more often, and you'd know all this.

When I was a child there were even longer examples. Hours of it. I'd trapse along with my mother to visits to friends, relatives, and neighbours, and while I wasn't expected to join in, I would often listen (even if I'd been given a book to keep me quiet) and I would hear these drawn out tedious conversations that were lifted straight from a chapter in the etiquette guide. Totally insincere. Totally pointless. Nothing of any substance would be discussed, and I would ask why we even went. I was told it was good manners. So I didn't cause a fuss, but I promised myself that as an adult I wouldn't do it.

And I never have.

So people think I'm difficult. I am.

I like good manners, I do. But I think the purpose of them is to make people happy. To get along. I don't think these silly rituals serve any purpose, and I won't join in.

I'm also a bit mischievous, so sometimes if a ritual talker approaches me at a party, I say something silly, or I change the subject.

I particularly have fun with people who just want to talk about themselves. They ask you how you are, ignore the reply, and then launch into a list of their curent achievements. A sort of bulletin.

"How are you great well of course we've been so busy with Frank working away so often and did I tell you I'm teaching yoga now just 2 nights a week but I get so much out of it and I don't have to take Anna to dance anymore she's got her own car now it's 4 years old but it run's fine and we had new floors put in last month mind you it was necessary the puppy had ruined the carpet he's getting so big now I'm taking him to obedience classes and he's doing very well oh you remember my brother went to New Zealand he's the manager of a rugby team they're going to Wales and his wife is expecting her third pity we won't see it still there's always Skype isn't there and I have my new iPad got it for half price at one of those doorcrashers..............."

You have to interrupt. You just have to. For your sanity. You could say "Excuse me I've just got to....." and escape. But sometimes you can't. You really can't. There's only ONE solution.

"So, the Indian Mars mission is right on schedule!"

This derails their train of thought, but it's not controversial.

They look at you like you just turned green. I find it best to smile broadly at this point. It throws them completely.

At some point you leave. This is where people promise to visit or stay in touch, which of course they won't. The moment you've gone they either forget about you or say nasty things about you behind your back. You can't blame them really, the ritual creates bad vibes in everyone.

And then there's "Have a Nice Day". It doesn't get any more fake than that.

Wouldn't it be better if we had a greeting and a departure ritual that was sincere without being instrusive? A lot of people have taken "Namaste" on board, which is lovely but we could, if we made the effort, come up with something home-grown.

The fact that we don't, that there is nothing in our language that works like that, tells us a lot about our society. How it likes rituals instead. I think this stinks.

The introverts would rather just not talk to you at all.

The extroverts don't worry about any of this, they're just pleased to see you, whoever you are, and will dominate the conversation anyway.

So, leave it to the ambiverts to point this stuff out.


  1. (This may appear twice - my connection hiccuped.) A few comments on this one; the greetings are simple considered polite and I sincerely doubt that anyone, with a pulse, takes it seriously. It is simply a "social convention". Like you I fall into the ambivert category whoever, unlike you, I am forced into social interaction 8 hours a day, every day. To get along in society, in my case, the workplace, the ambivert learns discipline. It is a survival skill, otherwise ambiverts would be out of a job in no time. Doing what you do, where you do it, this self-discipline is not necessary. There are a lot things required in urban and suburban areas that are not required in the rural. I would love to live rural but let's face it, can you see me trying to grow something with any reasonable expectation of success? So I do what I have to do to survive. I don't like it but I understand what is expected outside my front door. There are multiple social conventions that strike me as absurd and pointless but I understand I need to perform/wear/commit to them with my mouth shut. I believe it would surprise you to know how many ambiverts are out there, many are like me, doing what is necessary in order to pay the bills and buy the groceries. The difference between them and you is that these folks have no choice but learn self-discipline and to pay attention to social conventions in order to master them. It is a struggle. I don't believe this to be a rare identifier. The astounding growth of the internet is one of the indicators of just how prevalent ambiverts are, globally. Sure, there are those who use it to be "social" but there are far more who use it to create their own reality, far from the madding crowd.

  2. I know :) Those of us who are quite mad and a crowd of our own are trying to create a new reality for everyone :) It can happen. I believe it was ambiverts who made hugs more popular than handshakes.

  3. I hate hugs. I hate the double cheek kiss that is mandatory in Quebec, but, what do you do? The only hugs I like are from family and close friends.

    1. Ah well, that's exactly it you see. This is what I'm on about. Being forced to do things we don't want. I won't hug people I don't like, and I reject the kissy kissy a lot too (it's huge in Toronto now, but I knew it from England so can deal with it when it crops up). As you say, I escaped.

  4. My keyboard never wants to hug or kiss me. I like my keyboard ;)

    1. I would be OK with hugging or kissing my keyboard, I love it and it loves me. But right now I have a cat purring on my lap so it serves the same purpose.

  5. Well, your blog is called, "Torrent of Consciousness," is it not? Guess when we open the floodgates with a rote, ritualistic greeting, all sorts of stuff will come tumbling out. ;) LOL

    I like your organic, mindful method of exchange much better. Keeps people on their toes. ~ Blessings! :) (and yes, I meant that....) :D

    1. Well, yes, the whole point of this blog is to unclog my brain, let it all flow out. Which is why it tends to read like that, LOL

  6. I love manners. I love people being polite. I see so much impoliteness and I hate it. I like receiving hugs. I love hearing about people's days too; I sincerely do.

    However, I get your point too. My daughter would DEFINITELY agree with this post, but she is more introverted than I am.

    Perhaps a better greeting would be a simple, friendly "hi."

  7. Ambivert. Brilliant term. Melanie, I admire your intellect, wisdom, energy and attitude. Always have. However, I honestly don't think you are quite as exceptional as you claim. So, you don't fit onto the box? Guess what, many of us don't. The world is full of us. And yes, with this nifty internet we get to meet each other, which is great. As a Dutch person it took me YEARS to return the traditional greeting with "Fine, and you?". And I have been guilty of the brain dump all about me that you describe so hilariously. The last especially when I had been too deprived of social life for a while. As for the our hippie circles I thoroughly enjoyed the full body hug which was common. It did not go with kissing. Then I went to the old country for a family visit after not being there for 6 years. To my surprise they stiffened right up when I enthousiastically hurled myself against their breast. Instead the approved greeting was body at armth length, or at least not touching, and three kisses either on the cheek or in the air, alternating sides. I kept withdrawing too soon.