Wednesday, November 11, 2015

are you speaking my language?

With my English friends in the US, I never noticed a class structure in our interactions, only that we occasionally had differences in custom and manner. In Hong Kong, it took me a few years but I eventually became aware of a completely different social construct. When sitting in the pub, watching rugby or football with fellow British, New Zealander, and Australian sports fans, we are all equals in looking down our noses at American football and rugby players. I notice, however, that when Englishmen get together, things get weird. D supports Liverpool while P supports Tottenham, S supports Arsenal, and E is Manchester United all the way. Each speaks with the dialect of where they are from. However, when P and S talk amongst themselves, they take on different accents and mannerisms than when they chat with everyone else. When I pointed it out, D explained to me that P and S went to public school (the English definition, not the American one) and apparently there is a public school way of elocution that they turn on and off depending on who they are with. I guess it is their way of recognizing each other above the flock.

I hear P and S's dialect in meetings when several British educated people are in the room. Like P and S, a few of my company directors speak this language in formal meetings. No one seems to hold it against me that I can't turn up my posh, but all the same, it sometimes feels like I'm sitting in the midst of another civilization. I wonder if this is how people with autism feel. I can understand the words and see the gestures but I know that I am missing comprehension. I can practically, physically feel the social cues flying past me, too quick to grasp. My boss will say one thing and everyone will agree, but I have have heard that tone enough to now realize that he meant opposite of what he said and nobody is in agreement, and it fact, they are all fighting with smiles on their faces. Maybe Khrushchev had the right idea, because sometimes I want to bang the table and demand that we cut through all of the posturing and actually say what we mean.

My former boss told me that as he grew older, he came to appreciate the American way, which was direct instead of polite. I can't recall how he said it because it was rather indirect and circuitous, but I took it as how I think that he meant it despite the condescension in the message's delivery. I'm not sure if it is an American way of thinking, or if it is just me, but I don't mince around. In the construction industry, every minute spent making nice nonense is a million dollars of delay costs. I understand  though, that the correct answer is not always the right answer. It's more of that autism feeling. I can give a correct answer and it is still wrong. Maybe I need to reply in crisper vowels and everything will be okay.

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