Wednesday, April 23, 2014

"Gesundheit!" A Conversation In The Park

"Gesundheit!" I said as I sat next to her on the park bench. I had waited for the right moment to initiate a conversation with her, and when she raised her left hand toward her mouth for what I assumed was an oncoming sneeze, I saw an opportunity.

I had spotted her from 30 yards away, during my daily walk. I became smitten with her immediately. She had piercing blue eyes, windswept brown hair and an infectious smile. And she obviously enjoyed the park as much as I do.

I wanted to approach her, but I wasn't sure how. What would I say to her? I had my answer as soon as she lined up her hand underneath her nose: "Gesundheit!" Never underestimate the power of a well-timed sneeze.

I walked very quickly in her direction. I knew I had only seconds to wish her good health in German before the moment passed. Ten seconds, max. After that, it would have just been awkward.

I reached the bench with approximately 0.7 seconds to spare. "Gesundheit!" Her response: "Excuse me?" "Gesundheit!" I repeated. "I didn't sneeze," she claimed.

I inspected her left hand, which remained close to her mouth. No sneeze germs. She was right. She was clutching a cellphone in her hand, though. My curiosity was piqued.

"What are you doing?" I asked. "Having a conversation," she said, with a hint of irritation in her voice, though I couldn't discern whether she was irritated with me or irritated with the person on the other end of the phone line.

"Why are you speaking into the phone with your hand in front of your mouth?" I inquired. "Because the conversation is private," she answered, after finally lowering her hand. Her infectious smile was missing, but maybe the person with whom she was speaking on the phone had made a comment that had upset her.

"It couldn't have been that private. You're in a public park right now. There are literally hundreds and hundreds of people here at this very moment. Any one of them could have sat down on this bench next to you as you were chatting on the phone.

"I bet they would have been able to make out every word you were saying, too. Sure, your hand would have made the conversation less audible, but not by much. Sound travels through hand, you know.

"Or were you worried about someone reading your lips? That shouldn't be a concern of yours. Even the best lip readers can only interpret 30 to 40 percent of spoken English. It's a scientific fact.

"Listen, if you truly wanted the call to be private, perhaps you could have had it before you came here. Or you could have waited until you returned home. Your choice. Out here, you really run the risk of someone eavesdropping on your conversation, or interrupting it.

"If you must have a conversation in a public location, you ought to text instead. Or exchange messages on Facebook. Or tweet. There are so many ways to communicate now, aren't there? It never ceases to amaze me. What a fascinating world we live in, right?"

She stood up and began to walk away. "I have to go now."

I yelled out to her, "Can I call you sometime?" Without breaking stride, she turned her head, held her hand to her mouth, said something, and continued on her way. I think she said yes, but I'm not sure.