For the past 20 minutes or so, I’ve been sitting at a table at a professional conference—an impostor in the natural habitat of the Business Professional.
This brief period has reinforced my outsider status in numerous ways. I don’t know any of the words of power that they deploy so casually. I don’t have any sort of a grasp on the intricate movements they’ve mastered–who knew there could be so many formats for a simple handshake. The spell components that they summon from their (very professional) briefcases are foreign to me. I certainly don’t wear the vestments that would convey my status as a fellow professional.
The person to my right—clothed in slacks, jacket, and vest of cornflower blue…sans tie—has spent his hallway respite with the sizeable guidebook spread open on the table before him applying a series of stickers he unearthed from his distressed leather bag in what I can only assume is some clever code; red and yellow dots on this entry, a blue arrow over here, and some semi-translucent flag hanging half off the page in one of 5 pastel colors signifying something important.
Did I mention that he’s wearing a suit with vest and no tie? I didn’t even know that was allowed!
To my left, a young lady is taking notes on a panel that has yet to even start. In black ink (INK!) she is—jotting seems too mundane for perfect block print organized precisely on the page—documenting her questions, the major topics outlined in the abstract, notes about the speaker, and what appears to be disconnected thoughts. The fact that I can tell you the nature of her writing should serve as a testament to the blueprint-like perfection of her script. All of these notes are divided up on the page in columns and boxes that she drew using a straightedge extracted from the back of her black, leather folio.
I was first to the table, so the young lady (Chelsea? Carrie? Some ‘C’ name) did not get the appropriate ritual of greeting from me. I didn’t know the steps, and I’m not sure I would have had the courage to attempt them if I did. As the gentleman (Alex? Aaron? I’m sure Cindy would know) approached our table, the entire dance started. Names and affiliations we exchanged, that much was obvious even to a foreigner such as myself, but what followed was a back and forth that explored conferences they have attended, shared job experiences, and potential mutual contacts. The exchange was several minutes of condensed information littered with safe jokes and punny wit.
The only jokes I know involve genitalia and are unfit for polite conversation. What passes for wit, in my world, would likely be considered fairly gauche here.
They turned and included me in their exchange, to my horror. As Arvin and I shook hands in greeting, his left hand came up to venture shake my right shoulder as well. This weird alteration to the handshake went almost unnoticed while my mind was busy hoping that Carla wouldn’t lab in for the cheek kiss I had just seen her exchange with our other table mate. Heading her off at the pass, I left my hand thrust forward in handshake pose as I turned to her, keeping her at bay with a clammy, limp getting.
My awkward responses to questions about where I’m from, what I do, and a list of my hobbies resulted in my being let off the hook fairly quickly, allowing me to return to pretending to take preparatory notes. In reality, I was spying; listening in awe to the ease with which these two acquaintances conversed. Though they tried gamely to include me through questions that became increasingly simple and brief, my inarticulate responses squashed any real chance of that happening.
Soon, the rooms for the next sessions were opened, so we parted ways. I bid Allen and Casey adieu and walked into a nearly empty room, taking up a position in a back corner where I could listen and process unmolested.
As I finish up the writing of this post, a young lady came over to introduce herself—Mandy, or Miranda, or some other ‘M’ name.
This is never going to end…