Overhearing the World’s Words

I have a guilty pleasure. While for some it might be late night trips to the freezer for dates with their favorite guys Ben and Jerry or eating enough raw cookie dough equivalent to half a dozen cookies, my guilty pleasure has nothing to do with food. Instead, I get a tremendous amount of satisfaction and pleasure out of listening in on other people’s conversations and raising my eyebrows at the ridiculous things I overhear.

And apparently I am not the only one. If you Google “overheard,” you will find many hits for websites and blogs detailing some of the most absurd overheard conversations. At Georgetown, there is even an “Overheard in Georgetown” Facebook page. To give you example of some of the great things my peers like to say, just read this recent wall posting:

“Bros in Leo’s [dining hall]: You should write your ethics paper on how unethical it is that there are only two ESPNs..”

We all have these moments: we are sitting at a coffee shop or waiting in line at the grocery store when our mind drifts from our own thoughts and shifts to the conversations among those nearby. Sometimes the dialogue focuses on mundane topics, such as errands and to-do lists items, like during a train ride from Pisa when I listened  to a husband and wife discussing their plans cena di domenica, “Sunday dinner.”

Or sometimes the conversations can be intellectual and stimulating. Oftentimes at school, I overhear people discussing everything from politics, to the national debt, to how the euro negatively impacted the European Union. As I listen to these talks, I am often amazed and inspired by the high level of dialogue in the some of the simplest places. Even when I have no idea about a topic being discussed, I become educated simply by listening to what others have to say. Generally this type of discussion is fueled by a debate with one person pitching for one side and the other batting for the opposition. Not only am I learning, but I also come to learn about different opinions on an issue.

Then, of course, there are those moments when you just want to wish you never perked up your ears. On a recent afternoon spent at the Georgetown public pool, I had the unfortunate experience of lounging next to a group of three underclassmen spending the summer at the university. Like the students I encountered in the Italian coffee shop, it was easy to read these girls simply by observing their Georgetown t-shirts and hearing “like” almost every other sentence.

In Italy, I hated listening to the American students I encountered. In comparison to the Italian language with its eloquence and sexiness, the American tongue sounded so harsh and ugly. In English if we do not know what to say, then we often inject “like” or “ugh”  or “hmm” into a sentence. In Italian, words like allora (then), come posso dire (how can I say) and comunque (however) seem much more appealing to the ears than their English equivalents; everything just rolls off the tongue and sounds important. The French language has a similar effect. Simple words like boulangerie (bakery) and fromage (cheese) just sound so much better.

But while there were times when I could not understand what the Italians were chatting about among each other (and never could I understand the French, or the Greek, or the Belgians), I bet there were moments when I was overhearing conversations I was lucky enough not to know their translations. When I was sitting at the pool and my ears absorbed the words of the girls nearby, I heard them discuss topics ranging from failure to use birth control, pregnancy, and marriage prospects. According to one girl, she vowed to marry a business school student so she would live comfortable; another discussed how her sister made no money as she worked for her PhD but was well taken care of by her lawyer husband…

As awkward and painful as it was to listen to the valley girl accents of the girls, there was a part of me that could not draw my focus back to the newspaper on my chair. Regardless of the lack of eloquence or sexiness, the language they spoke was one I could understand. Even though their conversations had no interest to me, I smiled in my chair. The girls next to me had no idea that their ridiculous words were indulging my guilty pleasure.

Unless of course you get caught scooping out the cookie dough  (or write about it in a blog), guilty pleasures are some of our best-kept secrets.

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One thought on “Overhearing the World’s Words

  1. Pingback: The Magnificence of the Capital | Le Colline e La Città

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