I’m a fan of public transport, and I use London’s buses on an almost daily basis, but sometimes I could happily swap my seat on the upper deck for the inside of a limo with darkened windows.
It’s not my own privacy that I’d be protecting, but being the unwilling audience of other people’s conversations is something I find trying at times. It’s not even what they are talking about that disrupts my thoughts, it’s the verbal tics.
This morning, travelling to work on the 148, I was reading my book. Suddenly I lost concentration, and didn’t know why. Then the penny dropped; I had registered that a woman several seats behind me was using the phrase Do you know what I mean? as a form of punctuation. For the rest of the journey, and I got off before she did, and she was still carrying on her ‘phone call, I noted with increasing discomfort her repetition of these words. I couldn’t tell you what the conversation was about.
At lunchtime, I shared a table with three strangers, twenty somethings, obviously well-educated and articulate, yet they punctuated every statement with like.
What is is about these verbal tics that is so annoying? My bus ride from hell is being force fed an overheard conversation of exactlys, do-you-get-mes, or oh-my-days. And why is it that I tune in and notice them?
Annoying may not be the right word. Once tuned in, I am almost squirming every time the particular phrase is repeated. I’m uncomfortable, embarrassed even. I’m distressed. I turn round to see what the user looks like, as though I expect them to have two heads or something equally bizarre.
They never do. They are always perfectly ordinary people who happen to repeat favourite words and phrases. I wonder if my condition has a medical name; if there is anything I can do to desensitise my ears. These people aren’t doing anything wrong, and my reaction seems disproportionate.
Do you know what I mean?