Sometimes, silence is golden

I was at a festival a little while ago. You probably weren’t there- it was pretty exclusive. I mean, there were some other people there, obviously, it wasn’t just me and my iPod in my garden. (If that had been the case, I probably wouldn’t have called it a festival. That seems a little like calling every time you go to sleep a sleepover, just because you don’t live alone. Misleading. And hard to charge tickets for). So I was at this festival, which wasn’t in my garden, although the toilet facilities were pretty similar, to be honest. (When I was a child, our playroom often smelt of urine. The nannies were far more perturbed by this that I was- I thought everyone knew that my little brother was weeing into the plants. Apparently, this was not common knowledge, and it was incumbent upon me to tell someone). In my defence, it is often hard to know what one should and shouldn’t say.

I was at lunch with my sister and my Mother, and we were having meatballs. (I used to think one could only get meatballs at IKEA, but it seems that is no longer the case. Long live globalization).

We were chatting merrily away, and then politely looked at the floor when the bill came so our Mother wouldn’t feel embarrassed about paying. The waiter took her card and then said, ‘There is some sauce on your face.’ My Mother removed the sauce and then inexplicably rounded on her children. ‘Why did you not tell me about this?’ My sister and I looked at each other. What an odd question. Of course we would not tell her. We have learnt not to make personal remarks through very specific Pavlovian response training. Personally, I was fairly sure she was just trying out some new lipstick. Like I said, it is very hard to know what one should and shouldn’t say.

As a rough guide, I suggest the following:

1. Sometimes people have put on weight, and sometimes they are pregnant. It is important to offer no congratulations until they tell you which one it is. (If it is that they have gotten fat, sometimes a cheery ‘congratulations!’ can be misconstrued).

2. Sometimes people are trying out something new. If you have noticed this, it is undeniably because it is dreadful. I find a non-committal, ‘oh, there’s something new’ is useful. If the other person looks perplexed, explain you were referring to the omnipresence of meatballs outside of IKEA.

3. Sometimes people are too lazy to go to the toilet. Even if you are at a festival, it is OK to tell them that they should not be weeing into the plants. Making comments on festival toilet facilities is also fine, but making comments on other people’s toilets is not. (This has a fairly broad remit- people are very touchy if you ask them about the weird creams they have in their bathroom cabinet).


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