When I was on a plane last week, the young man seated next to me struck up a conversation just as we were about to land. It began because I caught his iPad as it slipped off his knee, just before it hit the floor. In doing so, I inadvertently touched his leg, which was something plane seat-mates try very hard not to do. In acknowledgement, he grinned and thanked me, and then he started chatting about this being his first trip to Edmonton.
I asked him what brought him here and he explained that he was a snowboarder and was coming to make a video for MTV. I didn’t quite understand the project or why he was doing it in snow-free Edmonton, but he was very enthusiastic. Then he asked me if I live in Edmonton. I said that I do, but my accent always betrays my roots and he asked me where I was from–originally.
It seems like a simple enough question, but sometimes people hesitate to answer. They look away for a moment, then they say “Well, …” I notice when that happens because I do it, too. I first try to decide how much time I should spend in answering the question, then I try to decide how much the other person really cares. It’s one of those small talk questions that are more about making a connection than getting an answer.
At this point in my conversation with the snowboarder, we were on the runway and I figured we only had a few minutes. I said I was born and raised in London and mentioned two of the locations I have lived in Canada as well as the reasons for some of my travels. I’m pretty sure he didn’t care much. He just wanted to identify the accent, but it bothered me. I felt I had done an injustice to the wonders of my journeys.
There is so much more that I could have said. I have lived in Hayes, Middlesex; Wythenshawe, Lancashire; Rochdale, Lancashire; Brighouse, Yorkshire; Huddersfield, Yorkshire; Walthamstowe, London; Hayes (again); Trail, British Columbia; Pine Point, Northwest Territories; Trail (again); Fruitvale, British Columbia; Calgary, Alberta; Olds, Alberta; Red Deer, Alberta; and Edmonton, Alberta. In addition, I now have a part-time home in San Jose, California. I think that’s all the places I have called home, but I might have missed a couple.
I have also lived in more than one house in some of those places, so my family has had a tough time keeping track. One of my sisters says she now keeps my address on a Post-It note in her address book.
As I was finding my way to customs it dawned on me that I had not asked the friendly young man where he was from, and for a moment I felt bad. I had failed in my small-talking responsibilities. But then again, I don’t really care where he’s from. I was much more interested in where he was going and why. If he had an interesting accent I might have asked, but then he would probably have looked away and said, “Well…”.
Image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lostbob/3324253230
🙂 this is a common question I get all the time and I sure relate how you feel about it and why you would not care where the person asking this question was from. I wish I was asked what i was doing as a job and explain them all the exciting things we do. well…. 🙂
We should start a trend. Right after we meet someone we should ask them what is interesting about their work. It would be much more thoughtful than asking where they are from or what they do for a living.
I loved, loved this idea 🙂 even asking about their hobbies or other interesting skills they have can be lovely. way more interesting – great idea! 🙂