Monday, May 7, 2012

The Knowing Look

Part of my job requires me to travel occasionally to various conferences around the world. Several years ago, I attended just such a meeting in Vienna, Austria. Most of the participants were from countries in Europe and Asia, and I was one of the few westerners present. In fact, I didn't know anyone else in the room. My experience is that most folks attending these types of meetings where they don't really know anybody else (me included), is that they tend to sit in the same seat in the auditorium each day. Maybe it provides a measure of familiarity and comfort or perhaps it is just one less decision to have to think about.

It is kind of funny that over the 3 or 4 days that these meetings take place, a sort of bond develops between the people who sit near each other. This connection can happen even if you never have a conversation with any of the other people. Such was the case with me at the Vienna conference. There was a man who sat across the aisle from me each day. As he never asked any questions of the speaker, I could not make a guess as to his nationality. He was caucasian and looked like a regular guy, so I somehow just assumed that he was an American. Indeed, we developed a bit of a bond throughout the duration of the conference. Whenever someone said something humorous and the room had a bit of a chuckle, we would tend to make eye contact and exchange a knowing look.

I happened to overhear the gentlemen on the last day of the meeting as he was having a conversation with the conference secretary regarding his travel arrangements. I was shocked to learn that he did not know more than a few words of English. It was then that our whole relationship disintegrated. There was no way that he understood any of the jokes or bon mots that were tossed about. His laughter was just cued in a learned response to the laughter of others. Our knowing looks were all just a sham.