One of my favorite types of social interactions — and perhaps one of the trickiest to navigate — is when you meet someone for the first time, discover that you have a mutual acquaintance whom you personally dislike very much, and then try to figure out, without tipping your hand, if the person you’ve just met also dislikes this mutual acquaintance as much as you do. It’s a difficult little dance. I am sure the Germans have a word for it. We don’t in English, unfortunately.
Recently I was introduced to a pleasant, hippie-ish guy at a party, and it turned out he’d played in a band with a certain unsmiling jerk I’d once known. The jerk in question would very easily make my all-time top 5 list of most unpleasant people I’ve ever known. I hadn’t heard anything about him in a few years, so I was eager to find out if his general unpleasantness had finally caught up with him.
“Oh, yes, [name redacted],” I said, smiling a little too broadly. “He’s, uh, quite a character, huh?” The guy I’d just met looked at me. “Yes, he is,” he said. Very neutral tone of voice; he wasn’t taking the bait.
I frowned for a moment, then offered this mysterious, open-ended statement: ”I, uh, always wondered how that particular story ended.”
“Well,” said the guy, “he’s out in Portland now, playin’ music. I have to say, I’ve never met a more talented guy. He’s just incredible. He can just…I mean, he’s top 5, for sure.”
No, no! Wrong top 5! Geez, band guys! They’re all the same!
I smiled politely. “Yep, he’s definitely a great guitar player,” I said. (This is true.) “Glad he’s doing well.” (This was maybe less true.)
He nodded. I smiled again, and then I dropped the subject.
I was a little disappointed. I was looking forward to recounting tales of [name redacted]’s various unsmiling crimes against humanity with a former bandmate. Instead, I heard a more familiar story about a jerk that moved to Portland and played guitar well. I felt like a creep, so I went and ate a bunch of feelings, in the form of hors d’oeuvres. There’s no English word for that, either.