Sunday, 5 September 2010

Are you busy?

'..hard to change it. Hmm, I think so. Keep away, that's probably the best.'
‘..with aggression.’
' It's going to be especially useful in my new job. Language skills like mine are rare.'
Silent listening.
'..to what end I say? I learnt English in school. Everyone does. Put in a lot of practice. It always comes in handy.'
Long pause.
'..yeah, five languages. Not common, if I say so myself. I seem to have a talent for them. Turkish was nearly solely 'by ear', thanks to my Turkish friends.'
'..you flatter me! Well there is Italian and Spanish too. Have learnt to control aggressions.'
Eyes dart around nervously.
'Five languages, surely gives me a head start.'

11:00 am on a Saturday morning on the Munich Metro heading to downtown. The middle-aged lady's cell phone conversation went on repetitively. She repeated every fifth sentence in almost the same order. She was talking so loud that one couldn't help but involuntarily eves-drop on the dull, unusually long (she never did hang up) one-sided monologue. All of this would have been in no way noteworthy. Loud lady on cell phone. But for one small detail. There was no cellular network on that Metro-line for at least another 6 stops to come. Obviously there was no-one on the other end. This increased my fascination about the conversation itself and the reason for the pretense. There was also that intermittent darting around of her eyes. As if in appeal....
But for us, the car was quite vacant at first. I kept my observation to myself and continued to note this odd behavior. Interestingly enough, my partner sitting beside me obviously noticed the lady on the phone as well, but didn’t doubt the reality of the conversation. Instead, puzzled he started to fish out all the cellular gadgets he had on him. He doubted them - his gadgets. THAT was odd, why the heck didn’t he have any reception?? The few people that trickled in after us all had the exact same reaction. She had herself surrounded by people with wrinkled brows and frowning faces, turning their cell phones on and off, looking around questioningly and then at each other and me, and back at her. Her conversation continued stoically. Her sentences repeated, her appeal fell on deaf ears. Whatever the message was, it was lost. Everybody that had noticed her was busy looking for an answer. Busy with why they didn’t have any reception. Busy with why their gadgets let them down. Busy with why they would need to wait 10 more minutes to use their cell phones again to surf the net and check mail and make calls, whilst hers already works. In a way, 10 less minutes of keeping busy, really.

Soren Kierkegaard said that ‘Busyness’ is a state of constant distraction that allows people to avoid difficulties and maintain self deceptions. We are in an age that makes it easier than ever before to remain busy in a Kierkegaard sense.

I think I saw a faint tinge of disappointment in her eyes before she got off. ‘..yeah five languages. Not common.’

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