We’ve started hiring the gallery out in the evenings for cocktail parties, and the like - make it earn its crust in the evenings as well as during the day. It costs me enough, bloody thing might as well started earning its keep.
Anyway, the first event was last week. It was hired out by Smith College - one of those ivy-league stylee women’s liberal arts colleges in the US - for their annual alumnae get together.
I often find it fascinating chatting to Americans because it seems to me that, although I encounter them regularly enough of course (reading that back I notice I’ve inadvertently made them sound a bit like the lesser spotted tit), some how it nevertheless seems to take me outside of my usual mode of thinking, to the degree, at least, that I become more aware of my normal mode of thinking. The mode of thinking and speaking that is so normalised to me that most of the time I’m not even conscious of its underlying assumptions.
At this do I met an American woman who was clearly an enormous cheese professionally. You can tell from the way enormous cheeses deport themselves that they fit into that category. This woman was confident, yet kindly so. The sort of real confidence that doesn’t require boasting or bragging or generally bigging oneself up at anyone else’s expense; because the confidence is self sufficient I suppose. Anyway, she was a very nice sort and clearly vastly accomplished. When I asked her what she does for a living she told me that she’s a partner with a huge international consultancy firm. That in itself was interesting. Said completely without bragging and yet without modesty either, false or otherwise. Pure statement of fact. And why not? She’s a partner at a huge international consultancy firm through her own hard work and merit and why shouldn’t she be able to say as much without feeling somehow guilty or self conscious about it, as one almost definitely would expect oneself to feel if one were English and in her position.
It turned out that, like me, she’s a keen horse woman. Polo was her sport. When I asked her what goal she was (for those not into polo ‘goal’ roughly equates to a handicap in golf), she told me, equally frankly, that she was “zero goal” (ten being sort of Olympian standard, the stuff of legend, zero being not bad for an amateur but then again probably not world beating either). Being English of course I immediately regretted having asked in case I’d made her feel uncomfortable. How ridiculous of me. Polo is her hobby. Do I really expect her to be playing to international standard? Or more accurately I wondered, do I really expect her to be expecting herself to play to international professional standard?
Still on the subject of horse riding she asked me what discipline I was interested in. “Dressage” I said, “or rather”, I added, “what I like to call ‘dressage’ but what is in fact nearer to driving my poor horse mad riding round and round in circles.” This is my stock answer to that question and I’ve come out with it countless times before, but never, I think, have I tried it on an American. To my horror, she took what I said at face value and assumed (quite rightly of course but that’s hardly the point!) that I’m a very inexperienced ‘dressage rider’ and that what I like to call 'dressage' would indeed look to anyone but a fellow Sunday rider and amateurish dressage enthusiast, much more akin to riding round and round in circles driving my poor horse mad. I couldn’t believe it.
What all this made me realise was (typically!) something about myself. It seems it’s not my intention that the person receiving this stock response should assume from it that I’m just shit at riding, although that, up until now, is what I’d thought my intention was. In fact I think it’s my intention to bluff and double bluff to the point where I’ve said I’m a shit rider but in such a way that most English people would assume I’m a good rider and charmingly modest with it. Win win situation. I haven’t said anything that isn’t true but the result is that everyone thinks I’m better at riding than I am and also that I’m delightfully modest with it. Note to self: this bluffing thing doesn’t work on American because Americans assume that a person says, for the most part, what a person means. In England of course we know that’s utter nonsense. An English person never says what they mean, nor even what they intend you to understand them to mean. They say quite what they don’t mean and know that the person they’re talking to will understand something quite different again.
Funny that when you meet somebody different from yourself it tells you as much about yourself as it does about them.