Conversations Overheard in America
Although ‘obnoxious-person-talking-loudly-on-phone’ is just as ubiquitous in the UK, the conversations one overhears in the U.S. never cease to amaze me. Whether it’s on the phone or talking loudly to a friend, Americans don’t shy away from revealing their emotions and innermost thoughts. Subjects ranging from therapy sessions to all night orgies are just out there for general consumption. I can’t decide whether people don’t realize everyone can hear, or they just don’t care…..
Recent research suggests we are much more distracted by one-sided conversations than if we listen to both sides of a dialogue. Perhaps because we can’t hear what the other person is saying, our imaginations run wild as we try to fill in the gaps. “So I just threw him out the window” conjures up all manner of foul deeds, whereas the “him” in question referred to a soft toy someone’s child’s had left in a fourth floor apartment; instead of walking down flour floors, the toy was just tossed to its owner. Incidentally, these one-sided conversations are now known as “halfalogues”.
In the UK you mainly hear the “So then I said to ‘im, and he says to me” type dialogue, and you deliberately tune out before falling into a mundanity-induced coma. Not so on this side of the Pond, your options are far juicier. “My therapist says….” is a fairly typical attention-grabber, usually from female twenty-somethings walking very briskly. Increasingly, “My dog therapist says that I should …” is something you might also overhear. (Resist the temptation to fall in line to absorb these pearls of wisdom; that constitutes “public nuisance”.) Pseudo-professional phrases like “modus operandi” and “functioning enabler” are scattered liberally throughout these conversations, usually in the wrong place or context, which is always good for a laugh.
The funniest halfalogue I’ve heard in recent years was when walking behind (but not in a public nuisance kind of way) a young hipster dude. He sounded very angry and normally I might have hung back, but he was forcefully lamenting the fact that, while waiting for a train, he had plugged his dying cell phone into an outlet on the platform only to find himself arrested for theft! His slightly justified outrage was hilarious, and I eventually had to retreat for fear of snorting out loud.
And once in a while you get absolute gifts like these from the old Overheard in Chicago blog:
“And now my underwear smells like Drano.” (Seriously, we should run a competition for the best short story leading up to this quote.)
Or this conversation overheard at DePaul University:
Guy – “Why are girls so dumb?”
Girl – “It’s not that we’re dumb. It’s that we have to pander to the lowest common denominator.”
Guy – “Who’s that?”
You couldn’t make them up!
Do you have any good zingers you’ve overheard?