Saturday, August 16, 2008

A Formal World

The modern day definition of a smile seems to be: " Stretch your lips in each direction until your two front teeth are visible. Hold for one second. Bring lips back to original position.".. An alternate definition (Presumably for people who are too lazy to visit their dentist) would be: "Stretch your lips to the maximum extent possible without having to open your mouth. Hold for one second. Bring lips back to original position." The other day, a flight attendant 'smiled' at me.. and that put paid to any hopes I had of catching some sleep on the flight. I knew I would only have nightmares of vampires.

There's also this habit we have of saying 'Hi' to all and sundry. I don't know about you but it puts immense pressure on me. I live with the constant fear that I would forget to wish somebody and that they would then pierce pins into a voodoo doll to exact revenge. It also makes me wonder if I did something wrong when somebody else forgets to wish me. "Hmm.. did I forget to acknowledge their contribution at the team meeting? Did I forget to ask how their vacation was?" And in the process promptly forget to wish the next person passing me.

Moving on to a question that really throws me: 'How are you?'.. It has taken a while to realise that people are not really interested in hearing about my recent visit to the doctor or about my fantastic road trip when they direct this question at me. My initial ' Hey, you asked for it, so take it ' response has now been adapted to the universally accepted 'good/fine' response. But is any other answer even a possibility? Would someone who just returned from a wonderful vacation answer the question any differently from someone who has been sick the whole week or even a person who has just been diagonised with a terminal disease? Probably not.

It is only right to place 'Thank You' at the end. No points for guessing why.. Every trivial action must end with 'Thank You'. This rule is consistent enough to become Newton's fourth law. I wonder if we realise that when we thank someone for getting out of our way, we are actually thanking them for not colliding with us! which they would not want to do anyway, at least not unless we were Aishwarya Rai (I would prefer Kajol myself, but I'm vastly outnumbered here) or Brad Pitt.

Nothing emphasizes my point more than an email exchange:

A to B:

Hi B,

I have a question. Thanks in advance for (......).

(.. Question here ..)

Thanks again.


B replies:

Hi A,

Thanks for asking me this question.

(.. answer ..)


("Thanks in advance" is actually a cool trick.. After all, once you have been 'thanked' for something, you HAVE to get it done. :-))

All jokes aside, it seems to me that the more civilized we become, the more formal we get. (Which explains why the United States is a far more formal society than India.) Somehow as we progress towards becoming a tolerant society, we seem to need reassurances in the form of 'wishes' and 'thanks'. But when this is overdone it leaves a sour taste in the mouth.