Melissa Kite

The impossibility of ordering the right-sized salad

People have lost the art of listening

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People don’t listen. It’s a relatively new thing. People used to listen, to varying degrees. You had your good listeners and you had your bad listeners. Now people just don’t listen at all.

I was in the pizza joint in Balham with the builder boyfriend. The waitress was standing at the table with her pad, the builder and I told her which pizza we wanted and then I said, ‘Oh, and can we have one mixed salad and one rocket salad.’

‘One small salad and one large salad,’ she said.

I looked back down at the menu. ‘No. Sorry,’ I said, ‘I mean, can we have one mixed salad, and one rocket salad. Both small.’

‘One small salad and one large salad,’ she said. The builder and I gritted our teeth. He had a go. ‘We don’t want different sizes. We want one of each kind. In the small size.’

‘Yes,’ she said, writing something down. And then, ‘One small salad, one large salad.’

We shook our heads at each other ruefully and decided to have what she wanted us to have. She left the table. We sat in silence for a few minutes. We were trying to be good. We were trying to let it go. But I knew what he was thinking and he knew what I was thinking. And after a while it became unbearable. The builder gave way first. ‘Oh, this is ridiculous,’ he said, and he called the waitress back over. ‘I’m sorry, you must think we’re a real pain but what we meant to ask for was one of each type of the side salads.’

‘Yes,’ she said. ‘One large and one small.’ The builder took a big breath. ‘Can’t we just forget the large and small thing?’ he said, pleading with her with his big blue eyes. ‘You see, we don’t want a large salad of any kind. We want side salads. From the side salad section of the menu.’

The waitress looked blank. We were not getting anywhere. So the builder said, ‘Actually, could we just have two mixed salads? How about that?’

‘Two small mixed salads?’

‘Two small mixed salads.’

‘Of course. No problem.’ And when the meal arrived the salads were indeed small and mixed. You see, not listening is the baseline, and then anything you get that in any way resembles listening is a bonus. I’m sure this has something to do with the way the human brain has adapted to us all being at the end of our iPhones, posting constant updates about ourselves on Facebook and Twitter while civilisation falls down around us. People have got stuck in their own virtual worlds and can’t get out.

The way people say ‘So,’ at the beginning of every sentence, no matter what you ask them, is a symptom of this. ‘How are you?’ you say to a friend and the friend says, ‘So, I told Pete I didn’t want to see him any more...’ This is not the answer. The answer is, ‘I’m fine/well/upset/a bit tired. How are you?’ But people don’t engage in two-way conversations any more. They machine gun each other with streams of consciousness.

‘Is that it?’ I hear you ask. ‘Is one slightly awkward pizza ordering experience your entire evidential base for a sweeping statement that people don’t listen?’

So, I’m in the hairdresser the other day. ‘How would you like it blow-dried?’ says the stylist, who is wearing regulation hairdresser tight black jeans and black specs perched halfway down the bridge of his nose.

‘Well, since you ask, could you rough-dry it until it is almost dry and only then use the round brushes to style it with a slight wave so it flicks this way...’ And I demonstrate exactly how I want it. But the hairdresser is looking out the window. ‘So, lots of body, or nice and sleek?’ he says, admiring a passing Cockapoo. ‘Please don’t do it sleek,’ I say.

‘So, lots of body and curl, yes?’

‘No. No curl. Just a slight wave, as it is naturally. Please don’t add curl.’

‘So, lots of body and shine,’ he says.

I give up. After a nice enough shampoo he starts dividing my wet hair into very small sections and drying each section. I feel my chest tightening at the thought that he may be trying to dry each strand individually. Then I realise he is curling each section around the brush to produce a mass of glossy ringlets. After an hour, I look like Shirley Temple. He has a ta-dah moment as he puts a mirror behind my head and exclaims, ‘Wow!’ I don’t know what to say so I say, ‘My god!’ And he says, ‘I know. You look gorgeous!’

What is the point in arguing?