I was seething. I was furious. And I was even more furious that I was furious. Agh, this is so bloody irrational of me, I can't believe I'm getting bent out of shape over this.
I'm transitioning into meta-furious. This is both bad and ridiculous.
I had been waiting for a shuttle bus and met two Chinese girls from Guangzho. Pretty girls, very so-so English, seemed like nice people. And as we were striking up a nice conversation, a very awkward guy jumped in to CHAT!!! Let's CHATTT!!!! HEY WHERE YOU FROM WHERE YOU GOING HOW LONG ARE YOU HERE?!?
Now, I can deal with someone jumping in to a conversation. Okay, maybe it's not always great. But you can roll with it. Usually. But not this time.
This time it was the proverbial Bull in the China Shop.
I tried to make it a multi-way conversation, with all of us speaking, but it's not happening. Bull-in-China-Shop (Henceforth, BICS) keeps speaking LOUD AND FRIENDLY LIKE. I say, "Oh, yes, I've been in China twice... I gesture towards the two girls. They're from China. How long--" --"OH YEAH I WAS IN JAPAN I HAVEN'T BEEN TO CHINA I LIKED JAPAN!"
The girls get meek and quiet. I think. Can I save this? I'm too tired. It's very early in the conversation anyways. Screw it.
I'm mildly disheartened and annoyed. What's with this guy? He's interested in talking to me, but not the people I was talking to. He butts into the conversation (...okay, that's fine, I suppose) but then he cuts the people I was talking to out of the conversation, and they shy away meekly, intimidated. Suck, dude. C'mon.
Previously I thought I'd have a nice chat on the shuttlebus with two girls, could practice my very poor Mandarin, and maybe make a connection. Now that's fried, and goofball isn't exactly a great conversationalist.
And suddenly, it hits me - this is why famous people are pricks. It's a flash of insight. This is how it happens. When you're famous, you get lots of people coming up to you and bull-in-china-shopping you, ignoring what you're in the middle of because they want something - and what they want is quite possibly asinine. No tact, no grace.
What a flash of revelation! I've never been mainstream famous, but I was relatively well known in a couple scenes at a couple points in my life. Even then, you can feel the general sense of awe and appreciation and it's a strange feeling. Prestige and respect, not due to reaction to who you are or what you've done or how you carry yourself or what you said, but because you represent an idea. And that idea is scary, or inspiring, or awe-striking, or... something. But it's significant. The idea, not you. People react to the idea they conceive of you at that point.
And they BICS you. Ka-krrrsht---crrrr-THUMP THUMP THUMP THUMP clic-klink-klunk-CRRRASH.
So back when I was starting to get mildly a little tiny bit famous, I resolved to not be a prick to people. So before I was going to speak on a stage at a large conference or whatever, I'd go out of my way to acknowledge EVERYONE around me, because I figure there's probably someone there that it'd mean a lot to. Y'know, I've been awe-struck before, and how cool is it when someone you look up to acknowledges you? It's very cool. And I figure it's easy to let that fame nonsense go to your head, so I would go out of my way to be ultra-friendly, friendly way above and beyond the call of duty, to fight off the famous prick effect.
But no, I think I get it now. The fact that people see you as an idea and not a person must be mildly grating to famous people, but I don't think that's what trips the prick thing. It's the BICS. You're in the middle of... something. Eating an ice cream, with your family, with friends, doing business, maybe just thinking and relaxing, and you get the equivalent of HEY WHERE YOU FROM WHERE YOU GOING HOW LONG ARE YOU HERE I LIKE JAPAN!! Except it's worse, because at least I LIKE JAPAN is funny in retrospect, whereas the famous person gets the same 15 questions all the time, and it must get old getting BICS'ed to get asked the same boring question you've been asked and answered dozens, hundreds of times.
So there I am, on the shuttle bus, meta-furious about the whole event of getting BICS'ed because I haven't thought it out yet. Y'know, I was more annoyed that I felt annoyed, than I was actually annoyed. Silly, huh? I was thinking, "I can't believe I'm aggravated by this, this is ridiculous, I'm better than this." I closed my eyes and rested on the ride back. You could see the guy, friendly and not-tactful, was a little disheartened that I had tuned him out.
Later, I'm in a common room and having a chat with a retired U.S. Air Force officer, and then a different girl. At some point BICS comes in, but he gets kind of locked out of conversation and I can see he'd like to speak up, but I was mildly unfriendly to him earlier, the officer is a very stern and unwelcoming kind of personality (very very good guy, just has a very tough and intimidating demeanor). Then the girl's English is so-so, and I'm chatting with her with BICS right there.
He feels locked out. It's the strangest damn thing I've seen - he starts progressively doing more and more nervous and uncomfortable gestures, he lets up his pant leg and starts furiously scratching his leg, blows his nose loudly twice, kind of rolls around in his chair some. He was normal until people were talking without including him.
Conversation ends, things wind down, people go to head to sleep. BICS leaves, tentatively saying ...GOODBYE... to me. I say goodbye to him.
And I'm left thinking: what a dilemma! This is not a bad guy, he's intelligent and probably a thoughtful guy, and he wants to be friendly. He just doesn't get it. He wants into the chat, but he's a bull in a china shop, and he's going to BICS things up if he's in, and soon no one will be chatting any more. Nobody's got any duty to him except common courtesy - he's nobody's workmate, friend, family member, nothing. Just a human - but then, he's also a human, y'know? That's pretty significant.
So I think I understand why famous people are pricks. They're getting BICS'ed. Unless someone's naturally very patient, friendly, and good at navigating and multi-tasking awkward situations that get sprung on you suddenly, then you've got a tough choice between having whatever you're on get broken or being a bit of a prick.
Tough call, eh? Maybe you've got to be comfortable making that tradeoff and people thinking you're a prick occasionally. I'm not sure. I'll think about this later.
Just followed a link to this from a newer post -- wanted to add the possibly-obvious observation that one appropriate alternative for the potential BICS is to sit listening to the conversation, trying to figure out where everyone is coming from, what they find interesting in each other, and where she can contribute in a way the other participants will all find valuable.
I say this as someone with (at least in the past) some dangerous BICS tendencies myself! But I'm not sure how others can prod the potential BICS into more appropriate behavior.
It's also interesting to me that some settings are more conducive to listening quietly on the side of a conversation. In a park, it's pretty natural to lie on the grass and just listen. Or in a pub, I can just quietly sip my beer. In other settings, it's more awkward to stand around not really participating. (And perhaps appropriately so -- it's not always so good to stand around a conversation you aren't part of!)
Great blog. Thanks!
From an old friend. Very effective guy -
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I slept most of the flight from San Francisco to Vancouver. I was up until one thirty in the morning the night before, and had to wake up at five in order to get to the airport on time, so I was exhausted. Upon arriving in Vancouver I shuffled half-asleep to the customs station, which I had to go through even though I was only connecting through Vancouver, not stopping there.
The agent asks my name, where I'm going, all the usual stuff. I reply, giving short answers. I always give short answers in customs because first, I'm sort of offended at how they treat you as though you're some kind of criminal, and two, because I figure the agent just wants to hear a succint answer and get on with her day.
"Where are your other bags?"
"I don't have any."