Monday, March 27, 2006

Who's with me on this one?

I'd like to found the Society Unconditionally Against Vague Exhortations (SUAVE), whose role would be to abolish such stressful semi-invitations as "You really must stop by and say hello sometime."

The HOD's wife is an archivist in the government department I have just started doing a little bit of work for. At the department party on Saturday when she heard I was going to be working in her building, she uttered the dreaded, "Then make sure you stop by and say hi to me."

As people always do.

Now HOD's wife seems to be a lovely person, but I've only met her two or three times. If I did stop by, what would I say?


What's the point in that?

Best/worst case scenario: she'd invite me for a coffee or to have lunch with her, and we would each have to find things to talk about with a total stranger for at least 15 minutes.

Probably HOD's wife doesn't really mean me to drop in at all. But then why say it in the first place? And what if she does mean it and I don't drop by, and she thinks that I think that she thinks that I think she hates me? Or that I've snubbed her? Or something.

I had a lecturer once do this to me on the last day of class for the year. "Come by my office and say hi whenever you get a chance next semester," she told me. And of course I didn't. And then I ran into her at a conference a few years later and she complained that I'd never come back to chat with her any more after her course was over.

So to avoid these sorts of fraught situations, I propose we ban this sort of half-invitation completely. If you really want someone to come and see you, why not suggest something specific like, "Do you want to meet up for morning tea on Monday?" If you don't know the other person well enough to do that, then you have no business saying anything at all. So there.



Anonymous said...

Usually people who don't mean it will give you some hint when you first stop by their office/cubicle. They'll be busy with something, they wouldn't initiate much conversation, etc. If you aren't comfortable meeting them (and they're really enthusiastic about the stop by thing), drop by once anyway, and let them know that your work is terribly taxing and keeps you too busy to stop by anymore. (But of course you'll try your best...blah blah)

shrinkykitten said...

I'm thinking one reason people say such things to avoid rejection. If you actually suggest a meeting, you risk that. But also, it might be akin to, "Hey, how are you?" as a greeting. They don't actually mean it, but it has become so commonplace as to become absolutely meaningless and maddening.

I would also like to outlaw the Vague Entrapment Invitation. That is, the one that begins with, "Hey, what are you doing saturday?" And then I always say, "Why?" and feel like a social retard because you are supposed to say nothing and then have to agree to do whatever the other person suggests. But what if the want you to take part in a human sacrifice or something -- and you already said you had nothing going on?

flossie said...

I also hate when you run into someone you haven't seen in a while and they say "Call me!" Why don't *they* call *you* if they want to see you? The answer is that it is a totally insincere way to get out of any social obligation whatsover, while making you feel vaguely guilty.

StyleyGeek said...

Anonymous - You're quite right, but even dropping by just that once (maybe to find they are exuding hints that they wish you hadn't) is horribly stressful.

Shrinky - I totally agree. I tend to do the "why" thing in response, too, and I'd never thought about it until now, but I guess it does sound a bit rude.

It's like, "Whether I already have plans or not depends entirely on how interesting your invitation is". Oops.

(Interestingly, that "what are you doing on Saturday" leading on to a real invitation is a textbook example we always give our students in Introductory Linguistics, for the pragmatics section. People don't like to get rejected, so they structure conversation so that it will happen as infrequently as possible. It's way less scary to get an "I'm busy on Saturday" in answer to "What are you doing?" than in answer to "Do you want to go out with me?". I hadn't been thinking about the "Come by and see me sometime in those terms". But I guess it's the same thing, really, as you point out.)

And Flossie, I don't think anyone has ever done that to me. Maybe it's an American thing. (Or maybe they _really_ don't want me to call!) But it would really piss me off, too.