Gordon Davidescu wrote this article.
One day last week as I was waiting to go to the synagogue where I regularly go to services. I noticed a young woman standing across 96th street holding a cup of, what I assumed to be, coffee. I remember thinking to myself that because it was a Jewish holiday on that day, I was not able to buy myself my own cup of coffee and would have to accept a cup of instant coffee instead. I briefly looked at the cup of coffee cup and then looked back down at the street.
As I started crossing the street, the woman walked toward me in a directed manner. She looked right at me and said, “Sorry… but thanks.” She then walked away before I could have a chance to say anything in response. I quietly repeated her strange words to myself as I continued crossing the street. Sorry… but thanks.
Sorry for what? Thanks for what?
My mind started to review all of the possibilities. The first thing I thought of was that, since I was clearly a man, and she a woman, she thought somehow I was expressing interest in pursuing some kind of interaction with her because I had looked at her, in her mind. What she did not know was that I was actually looking at her because of her coffee and not because of anything that had to do with her as a person. It probably could have been someone impersonating Elvis or Ronald Reagan and I still would have noticed the coffee first because my mind was obviously on coffee.
So she was sorry that she had to turn down my offer, whatever offer it was that she thought I was making by looking at her cup of coffee. Clearly she was a very polite woman, even though she was completely misreading how I looked in her general direction. The fact that she added “…but thanks” told me that she was even more of a polite person, or at least a gracious individual, as she was appreciative that I would even think of making this mysterious offer.
It reminded me of an occasion that took place about five years ago. I was standing on a street corner with my friend Joe and we were waiting for the signal. A woman was standing nearby us, chatting aloud. Presumably, she was using one of those mobile phone headsets to talk to someone without having the phone to her ear. She turned to us after we had both quickly glanced at her and announced, “Just to let you know, I’m not on the phone – I am talking to myself.”
People perceive our non-verbal communication on a regular basis. What is it that pushes a person to cross the line from perceiving a non-verbal message that has been received, or that the person thinks they have received, to responding in a very verbal manner? It’s almost amusing to me that now, a woman will think that I was making some kind of gesture of an offer when, in reality, I was just a touch envious over her cup of coffee?
Have you ever thought that someone was trying to tell you something when they weren’t? It has happened to me on more than one occasion that a person was waving hello at someone behind me, but I have gotten confused because I did not know who they were and why they were waving at me. It gives you a really dumb feeling when you point to yourself and mouth, “me?” and the person shakes their head and points over you to indicate someone else.
On the bright side, I suppose it is nice to be able to give someone positive feelings without having actually done anything. When we upset someone without doing anything, on the other hand, should we proactively seek to rectify the misunderstanding, or should we just assume that the person was just a little silly for even reading a message when there was none?