All week, I’ve been trying to “find” time to write a post. And remaining unsuccessful, whether due to lack of inspiration or lack of dedication, who can say. All I know is, sometimes the things we want or need to do feel too much like homework. And, boy, do I hate that little voice in my head telling me what I’m “supposed” to be doing.
I’ve decided to consider this more as “postponement”; doesn’t that sound much more positive?! After all, all the ways I’ve been distracted have been productive, just not exactly in the same way as the task I failed to do.
I’ve paid bills. Taken lots of walks. Made blinis, to go with the smoked salmon I’m finally taking out of the fridge. I’m currently making another batch of sourdough — a great all-day postponement activity if ever there was one. I’ve happily done the laundry and other housework. Ordered holiday gifts. Answered e-mails. Called my 99-year-old cousin. Cleaned the car — or will, as soon as I finish typing.
“Writer’s block” sounds so unforgiving. Let’s call it “writer’s break” instead, shall we?
If you didn’t grow up on the US East Coast or belong to one of the ethnic groups mentioned, you may wonder why their conversational style is so different from your own.
In Real Life, Not All Interruptions Are Rude
Deborah Tannen for The New York Times 9.25.21
Ms. Tannen is a university professor of linguistics at Georgetown University and the author of many books on conversation, gender and other topics, including “You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation.”
Interruption — the offense of stealing the floor when someone else is talking — has become the grand larceny of conversation.
It seems self-evident. Starting to speak before another has finished violates their right to the floor. In formal contexts such as political debates, it breaches the rules. In casual conversation, it is simply rude.
But it’s not so simple. As a linguist who studies the mechanics of conversation, I’ve observed and documented that beginning to talk while another is talking can be a way of showing enthusiastic engagement with what the speaker is saying. Far from silencing them, it can be encouragement to keep going. That’s a practice that I call “cooperative overlapping.”
As offices and schools reopen, and we venture into more in-person social gatherings, we’re having to relearn how to have conversations: how to start them, how to join them, how to get the floor and keep it. On screens, it’s relatively easy: Click on the raised-hand icon or signal with an actual hand, and you’ll be invited to speak when the time is right. But when talking with others in person, how do you show you have something to say without seeming rude? How do you handle it when you feel interrupted?
These challenges are emotionally loaded, because talking isn’t only about communication; it’s also about relationships. You may resent — or dislike — those who speak over you. And being accused of interrupting when you didn’t intend to feels terrible. It could come as a relief to know that what might be going on is cooperative overlapping.
The concept was recently plucked from my academic writing and thrust into public discourse when a journalist, Erin Biba, tweeted a TikTok video in which a user named Sari shared her excitement over discovering the term in my book “Conversational Style.” Many expressed their relief that the “interrupting” they had been criticized for is a recognized supportive conversational move: “Ahhhh omg it feels so validating to hear this has a name!” tweeted the entrepreneur and writer Anil Dash. “I really struggle with talking over people (I understand many experience this very negatively) but it’s an incredibly difficult pattern to change because it’s literally how I grew up communicating enthusiasm & support.”
Indeed cooperative overlapping, like all conversational habits, has cultural roots. It is learned the way language is learned: by hearing others talk while growing up. I first identified the conversational move — and its misinterpretation — while analyzing a dinner table conversation I had taken part in, along with five friends. Three, including me, were from New York City, two were from California, and one was from London.
By transcribing the two-and-a-half-hour conversation, timing pauses and noting when two voices were going at once, I saw that we New Yorkers often talked over others. When we did this with another New Yorker, the speaker kept going, undeterred or even more animated. But if we did the same thing with a non-New Yorker, the speaker stopped.
Someone overhearing the conversation or reading the transcript might think it obvious that a rude interruption had occurred: Someone began speaking while another was midsentence, and cut them off. But based on close analysis of the entire conversation, I could see that the awkwardness resulted from differing assumptions about overlap.
Cooperative overlapping is a particularly active form of what I call “participatory listenership.” All listeners must do something to show they haven’t mentally checked out of a conversation. If they don’t, the speaker will have trouble continuing — as you know if you’ve ever talked to a screen full of motionless faces, or a roomful of blank stares. Signs of listening can range from nodding or an occasional “mhm” or “uhuh” (or a shower of them); to a murmured “I would’ve done the same thing”; to repeating what the speaker just said; to interjecting briefly with a similar story, then yielding the floor back. Even true interruptions, if they’re mutual, can rev up the conversation, inspiring speakers to greater conversational heights. The adrenaline makes the mind grow sharper and the tongue more eloquent.
Anthropologists and linguists have described overlapping talk as enthusiastic participation in various cultures around the world: Karl Reisman for Antiguans; Alessandro Duranti for Samoans; Reiko Hayashi for Japanese; and Frederick Erickson for Italian Americans, for example. And people from many other backgrounds, including Poles and Russians, Indians and Pakistanis, Armenians and Greeks, tell me they recognize the practice from their own communities.
Of course, not all members of any regional or cultural group have the same style. And those who grow up in one environment then move to another can get rusty. One of the New Yorkers at the dinner I studied told me that he’d lived in California so long, he had to struggle to stay part of the conversation. But he’s still a New Yorker: His California-born-and-bred wife often accuses him of interrupting her.
It’s when conversational styles clash that problems arise. Those who aren’t used to cooperative overlapping can end up feeling interrupted, silenced, maybe even attacked — which clouds their minds and ties their tongues. The Californians and the Londoner in my study felt that the New Yorkers had “dominated” the conversation. In a way, we did, but not because we meant to. From our perspective, the others chose not to join in. Cooperative overlapping is part of a conversational ethic that regards perceptible pauses as awkward silence, to be avoided by keeping pauses short — or nonexistent. Those of us who converse this way often don’t realize that someone who wants to speak might be waiting for a pause to join in.
Once, when I was talking about this study on a radio talk show, a listener called to say she identified: After she and her husband had hosted a great dinner party, he would accuse her of hogging the floor and shutting him out. “He’s a big boy,” she said. “He can speak up just like me or anyone else.” In the background, her husband’s voice explained why he couldn’t: “You need a crowbar to get into those conversations!” His metaphor was perfect: If the pause you expect between speaking turns doesn’t come, you really can’t figure out a way to break in.
Not all overlapping is cooperative. It can really be intended to dominate the conversation, steal the floor or even to undermine the speaker. But understanding that talking along may be cooperative can make our conversations better, as we return to in-person socializing and work. If you notice someone has been silent, you might count to seven before beginning to speak again, or invite them to speak. If you’ve been waiting in vain for a pause, you might push yourself to jump in. And if you feel interrupted, try continuing to talk, instead of stopping.
If “Don’t interrupt me” is sometimes a reasonable request, so is “Don’t just sit there! Please overlap — cooperatively!”
With some of my favorite people about to move out of the neighborhood, I’ve been realizing that friendship is largely situational.
In childhood, we make friends through chance commonalities. We may live on the same street. Go to the same school — where we often become friends with the person who sits next to us because their name starts with the same letter — or play the same sport. Or fidget through the same religious services.
As adults, we might meet because our children know each other. Become friends with our co-workers. Live near each other. Volunteer for the same causes; attend the same church, mosque or synagogue; chat on a trip; or detest a common enemy.
Many connections fade without the proximity that is friendship’s oxygen. And that’s ok: they enriched our lives while we shared common experiences.
But if we’re lucky, a special few survive geographical separation because our deeper interests and affection forge a long-term bond.
So, in honor of all our besties, some wise quotes:
“An old friend will help you move. A good friend will help you move a dead body.” Jim Hayes
“It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
“The holy passion of Friendship is of so sweet and steady and loyal and enduring a nature that it will last through a whole lifetime, if not asked to lend money.” Mark Twain
“There is nothing like puking with somebody to make you into old friends.” Sylvia Plath
“Friends give you a shoulder to cry on. But best friends are ready with a shovel to hurt the person who made you cry.” Unknown
“It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like ‘What about lunch?’” A. A. Milne
Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of posts and articles about “new season dressing”, summer fashion, etc. But no one seems be addressing the critical need for a leisurewear wardrobe for those of us still in need of shedding the dreaded COVID-19. (That’s lbs not kilos, as COVID-8.618 doesn’t scan as well.)
Clearly, this dearth of fashion advice needs to be addressed forthwith.
CASUAL: This is the category for dashing to the grocery store, UPS drop-off, and other errands. Heathered grey pairs well with most t-shirts and face masks. Most casual are those with ribbed ankles, which work with either sneakers/trainers or flip flops. Highly versatile!
BUSINESS CASUAL: Black, of course, ups the elegance factor of these garments. A bootcut hem balances the body, distracting from the mid-section. (We would not be in sweatpants to begin with if our mid-section was svelte, no?) Pair with a bright top for seasonal glamour.
DRESSY: Black leggings – freshly cleaned and not too formfitting – covered with a very long cardigan or duster, also in black, that floats away from the body. Bright lipstick focuses attention on the lips, not the hips. Pair with heels if you must, though do not imagine you will fool anyone into thinking this outfit is haute couture.
SLOB: When no one will see you — cleaning the house or garage, painting, cooking, etc. The more stains, the merrier. A matching tee or sweatshirt adds to the “Je ne care pas” insouciance. Just do NOT answer the doorbell.
Meanwhile, this writer strives to lose the extra poundage and fit back into real clothes, especially with a family wedding on the fall horizon. However, nothing is quite so boring as someone’s weight loss “journey”, am I right?
Now that travel restrictions have eased a bit, and we’re all looking forward to a proper getaway, the following article from AllTimeLists is very timely.
To which I’ll add my own pet peeves:
Passengers who lean way back in their seats, oblivious to the discomfort of those behind them.
Bringing smelly food on board.
Loud conversations, especially with your companion three rows away.
Frequently blocking the aisle to get something out of the overhead. Just pack what you’ll need for the actual flight (book/meds/moisturizer/hand sanitizer/tablet), stick it under your seat and sit the f*** still.
Removing your mask whenever you think nobody’s looking.
Stowing your small carry-on in the overhead bin. How many times do they have to announce this??
Singing along to what’s on your headphones. Yes, we can hear you and it’s not pretty.
8 Things Flight Attendants Wish They Could Tell Passengers
Remember when air travel was fun and easy? Neither do we, but rumor has it; there was a time when flying was not the pressure cooker it is today.
The air traveling process can produce quite a bit of stress. Imagine it being your full-time job. Flight attendants have the tough task of tending to an entire plane full of people—each passenger with different complaints and needs.
Continue reading to find out what flight attendants wish they could tell their passengers.
8.”Not Taking off Hurts Us, Too”
Flight attendants want to take off on time too. I mean, you are all going to the same place after all. People tend to be overly rushed for no reason. Patience and kindness go a long way!
Also, flight attendants do not get paid while the plane is sitting at the gate. Flight attendants get paid for “flight hours only.” Meaning that the clock doesn’t start until the craft pushes away from the gate. Flight delays, cancellations, and layovers affect them just as much as they do passengers – maybe even more.
Airlines aren’t completely heartless, though. From the time they sign in at the airport until the plane slides back into the gate at their home base, they get an expense allowance of $1.50 an hour.
7.”Don’t Walk in the Aisle Without Shoes”
Aside from the fact that doing this announces to the entire flight that you are the most arrogant, self-centered creature ever to set foot on an airplane, it’s also unsanitary.
“I think people don’t realize how dirty the planes are,” said a flight attendant for PSA Airlines, an American Airlines Group subsidiary. He said that while flight attendants pick up trash between flights, the planes receive a thorough cleaning once a day.
6.”Cut Us Some Slack”
It really makes no sense why some passengers can be so abusive to the flight crew. The flight attendants did not cause the rotten weather that delayed the flight, the unruly behavior of the person behind you, the congestion at the destination airport, or almost anything else you are screaming at the flight attendant about. Please show them some compassion!
5.”We are Not Mind-Readers”
You know the old proverb about what happens when you assume, right? So don’t fly off the handle because the crew didn’t fulfill an expectation of yours that you didn’t verbalize. Keep in mind that these are flight attendants, not your siblings or parents.
Flight attendants can not read your mind. Have some patience! They can’t tailor service to every person, and people sometimes people forget that.
4.”Take Responsibility for Your Actions”
“I just wish I could tell passengers, ‘Be more responsible for yourself,’” a flight attendant for American Airlines said. Next time you are on a flight and have issues you caused yourself, take accountability for your actions. Be more responsible! Also, to go along with the no-shoes item, responsible behavior means respecting everyone else on the flight.
Clipping your toenails, snoring so loud you can be heard on the ground 35,000 feet below, or doing personal business under a blanket, should never be done on a plane. Remember, this is an airplane, not your house. This is a public space, not a private one. Respect the existence and rights of others.
3.”Don’t Ask if a Delay Will Result in a Late Arrival”
There is a difference between a pilot and a flight attendant. They have been trained to fulfill different roles, and one is not able to perform the duties of the other.
In the case of delayed flights, the flight attendant won’t know any more than you. They won’t know if the flight’s lost time can be made up during the flight or if it will result in a late arrival. So, don’t get annoyed when you ask them, and they don’t have an answer. In fact, don’t bother asking at all.
2.”You Have Never been in Extreme Turbulence”
More than 2 million people fly in the United States each day, and yet since 1980, only three people have died as a direct result of turbulence. Of those fatalities, two passengers weren’t wearing their safety belts.
During that same time period, the Federal Aviation Administration recorded just over 300 serious injuries from turbulence, and more than two-thirds of the victims were flight attendants. What do these numbers mean? As long as your seat belt is on, you’re more likely to be injured by falling luggage than by choppy air.
Speaking of falling luggage, don’t try to game the system by wrapping twine around your refrigerator and calling it carry-on luggage and only get about half of it inside the overhead bin.
One of the easiest ways to earn the ire of a flight attendant is to put your carry-on in a full overhead bin, leave it sticking out six inches, then take your seat at the window and wait for someone else to come along and solve the physics problem you just created. Measure your bag at home before you pack it a carry-on.
A carry-on bag’s typical dimensions are 9 inches x 14 inches x 22 inches (22 cm x 35 cm x 56 cm), including handles and wheels. If yours is bigger, check it in. Yes, the checked bag fee is a pain, but your huge item is creating an injury risk for yourself and everyone around you.
What a week! I would normally shy away from discussing anything political on this blog, but it’s been such a wild time that I feel compelled to dive in and mix a few metaphors.
7 million more of us saw the writing on the (bathroom obscenities) wall and anticipated a certain amount of resistance to the election results. But I do have some sympathy for those blindsided Kool-Aid drinkers who couldn’t see that their beloved was in the throes of a Hitler-in-the-bunker last stand.
Think about it. Four years is a long time to be in an intense relationship with a crazy person. There’s been a collective Stockholm Syndrome amongst these supporters who only get information from their crush and don’t want the grownups to explain that all is not as it seems. Both the highs and lows are so intense that “normal” is seen as boring. And woe betide anyone who dares say that the emperor has no clothes (ok, that’s a horrifying visual). He HAS clothes. They’re GREAT clothes. They’re the BEST clothes anyone ever had.
Well, sadly, the wannabe coup-coo dictator can’t even break up with his fan club on Twitter, like other cowards do. And unless he’s planning to write a whole lot of personal “It’s not you, it’s me” Dear Don letters, they’ll have to learn about it on the real news, i.e. the non-conspiracy, actually-validated-with-facts sort of news.
Meanwhile, expect sales of tissues and Rocky Road ice cream to go through the roof.
This week, braving dreary weather, R and I visited one of our favorite wineries, where one of our favorite people manages the tasting room. She gently reminded me that I’ve been remiss in my blog posting, so Linda, this one’s for you!
Back to the topic at hand.
I’m all for smart technology, such as the dishwasher that senses when my dishes aren’t dry enough, or when I need to refill the rinsing agent so the glasses don’t have leprosy.
On the other hand, some inanimate objects seem to have been designed with a real smart-alecky attitude. Like my smartphone’s spelling “correction”, which regularly replaces perfectly good English with gibberish. Or its more obscure settings, which convey general condescension toward those of us who grew up with princess phones. (What? You can’t find that function? Bwaa-ha-ha…!)
Where does the term “smart alec” come from, you ask? (OK, you didn’t, but now don’t you want to know?)
It originates from the exploits of one Alec Hoag, an infamous con man in 1840’s New York. He and his wife Melinda, along with an accomplice known as French Jack, operated a con called the Panel Game, in which prostitutes and their pimps robbed customers. Or so says Wikipedia.
What’s next in phones, I wonder. Will the built-in camera automatically subtract 10 pounds and add hair to hairless heads? Will it flash a warning to delete a tactless text before we send it? Will it short-circuit if we drunk dial our ex-lovers or horrible bosses? Wouldn’t any of these features improve our lives more than AutoCorrect? I rest my case.
Smartass tech is poised to invade other aspects of our lives, too. Imagine a fridge equipped with auto-lock if you open it too often. Or between meals. Likewise, a scale that proudly announces your last weight. Or a mirror that self-writes helpful suggestions such as, “Time to color your hair” or “Ever considered Botox?”
Soon we’ll have self-driving cars, which could be useful for those of us who don’t have chauffeurs. But will they refuse to go somewhere they feel isn’t in our best interest, such as the racetrack or the restaurant that gave us heartburn?
The line between human and machine grows ever thinner, my fellow curmudgeons. Stay vigilant!