Friendly chit-chat

As I mentioned the other day, I was flying back east. I remembered that I had another speech win traveling.

I was on a smaller plane, two seats on each side. I sit down, and after a while a rather large guy sits down next to me. (We were flying to Indy, and it was a Sunday night). So I asked him if he was going to Indy. Then what kind of work he does there. Short essays. He told me what he was going to be doing … training for his company that has their offices there. Ah, ok. Never been outside of downtown, etc., I told him about my short experience there, our office is downtown.

I was doing well, the pace was good, and I was breathing.

Our chat reached a stopping point, and then they announced that the doors are now closed.

The flight attendant came by and told him that there are two empty seats all the way in the back. So we exchanged polite goodbyes and good lucks, and that was it.

I’m trying to practice more and more in “spontaneous social situations.” I try to keep things comfortable for me, maybe bring up a few canned phrases and stories. Venture out here and there. Short and sweet.

Flashing Lights

I was on a flight a few weeks ago late at night. Two seats on each side, but I didn’t have a partner. I happened to be sitting just behind the wing. It was a short flight, just over an hour from Indy to the east coast.

I was trying to close my eyes and sleep. Even for just a half hour. I wanted some rest.

No luck. Flashing lights.

The strobe from the wingtip was going off. Not only could I see it through the window across the aisle, but it was reflecting off of my window. The person by the window was somehow passed out, though. I thought that maybe I could get up and close it. But then it would get super awkward if I woke them up. Like, what the hell are you doing in my personal space on this airplane?!

Drinks were coming by. I got a Diet Coke. I had to do something. Old me would have said, look, it’s only what, a half hour more? 45 minutes? Close your eyes tighter. Look down. Look away. Lean your seat back. Get a shirt from your carry-on and wrap it around your head if that’s what you need. Check if there are empty seats in the back.


“Excuse me, could you close that shade?”

“Oh, the light from outside?”

“Yes, thanks.”

They finished with the drinks, but didn’t close the shade. Should I get up? Risk that awkward situation? Should I be a full-on weirdo and open my carry-on and–

One of the flight attendants came by, leaned over to the window, didn’t wake up the person there and quickly closed it. Done.

I closed my eyes and was able to relax.

What I’m Stuttering on Lately

I had a chance last week to travel around the Kingdom a bit. I took my 8-year-old son.

When we got out of the airport in Medina, I needed to get us a taxi to the hotel. I knew what I wanted to pay, and the first cabbie quoted me a price that was way too high. I waved him off. I strode out to another few taxis and asked their price. Too high again. I said no. I started to walk off. He lowered. I said no again. We eventually agreed on a price (that was still too high, but whatever). I was just happy that I bargained a little bit and saved $13. I hate bargaining, and I’m usually the kind of person who just settles for whatever someone says. But I was feeling a lot more confident, and I had options, and I wanted to show my son how things are done.

I was staying with family at the hotel, so I didn’t have to check in. And when my son got hungry (and he’s particular about his food) family ordered room service, not me.

I stuttered off and on with my family members who I hadn’t seen in a while. Streaks of fluency punctuated by long agonizing moments of silence or a consonant being dragged out. I had a lot of catching up to do, and most of the stories I hadn’t told anybody else. So I was feeling my way around their adjectives, trying not to avoid.

I suppose I should mention the “standard” stuttering at the Starbucks at the Riyadh airport as well as on “diet coke” in the airplane. Some things I can always count on. But I didn’t go uncaffeinated!

Again with my son, and again with ordering food — we were at the food court, and he wanted a chicken sandwich at Burger King. I was tasked with getting some Pizza Hut. I didn’t want to (try) to say “crispy chicken.” So I told my son, look, here’s the money, order what you want (cleared it with me first) and I’m going to go order the pizza so we can get back to the room faster. We ended up doing that twice.

Yes, I avoided. But see, it’s complicated, right? I mean, he’s 8, and he’s gotta learn this stuff. How to order what he wants, how to deal with some money, and how to stand in line and collect the same food with a receipt. Right? Right? Lessons on growing up disguised as avoidance techniques. I guess covert behavior can be enabled by children.

Flying back home, I got into a conversation with a stranger while standing idly at a phone charging stand. He just began asking things, where we were going, where we were from. And it wasn’t too bad talking. Just an easy, slow-paced conversation without too much stress. And it annoyed me only because it made me wonder how many other casual conversations (you never know who you’re going to meet!) I’ve avoided because of stuttering.

Stuttering in 35G

As I’ve said before, I’m a very social person — who’s stuck with this stuttering thing. If I don’t have to introduce myself (or start off with a random witty comment), I can usually chat people up without too many issues. Of course there’s still stuttering, but the lingering effects of an introduction don’t cloud the air as much.

Since I work in Saudi, I have to make some long flights back home — like the one I took a few days ago so I can go to the NSA conference. On the first flight, I had all three seats on the side to myself. (This was pretty nice, but I still have a hard time sleeping on airplanes.)

From London to Philly, however, a young lady sat next to me. This is about a 7+ hour flight.

So the considerations begin. Not only are there stuttering considerations, but general, “don’t by creepy” considerations. You definitely don’t want things to be awkward for the next 7 hours.

The stuttering, of course, starts right off the bat — I usually open with, “so …. where are you going?” If I’m not feeling that at all (the ‘w’ in ‘where’ being the sticking point) I might try to be more specific — “so … are you from Philly?” This one is also pretty tough because after the “so” comes out, there’s a horrid pause, and then no sound as I try to eek out a word that starts with a vowel. Sometimes I feel bad because they’re just sitting there. Staring at me. They can’t go anywhere. Captive audience! Ha!

Despite this, I always do try to initiate conversation if they’re not going to. I’m curious! They might be a friend of a friend of a friend! Maybe they work somewhere interesting or went to the same school I did. I need to know! I’ll never see them again for the rest of my life, but I need to know!

The main issue are those ‘w’ words: What do you do? Where are you going? When are you leaving to go home? Stutter, stutter and stutter.

The plane can be a really tricky place to try to talk because there are so many variables. First there’s trying to find something good to say. Then trying to find the right words that I won’t stutter on. Then when I’m ready to say them, making sure there’s not an announcement being made. Or someone else walking by saying “excuse me,” and getting my seatmate’s attention. Or maybe they’re still on their phone or getting a call while we’re at the gate. They might drop something and be distracted. Most of these things seem to happen as I’m trying to get a few words out. “I’m sorry, did you say something?” Eh … let me try to repeat myself.

Other horrid parts of the flight include having to give a drink order when I’m at the window seat. Why do I always feel like the flight attendant is in a hurry? Where are they going to go? But then I’m trying to say “diet coke” while my seatmate stares at me and while the flight attendant looks on indifferently. All that for 6 oz. Sometimes I’ll just say I’m fine and not ask for anything.

Assuming things get going in conversation, it’s important to stay away from being creepy and overly friendly. Keep things short and to the point. Try not to set up elaborate jokes. If you find out they’re much younger, there’s no need to delve into the daily actives of your three children.

The nice thing is that most people will understand the “um,” and then a point toward the back of the plane as the universal sign of, “move, so I can go to the bathroom. Please?”

Alternatively, there’s this.

I wonder if people don’t do these to me when they start to hear that I stutter …

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