Saturday, January 26, 2008

I'd have asked for her laptop

Mrs. M-Mv wonders if her reaction to someone asking for her newspaper is the normal one:

Can I read that?"

I looked up.

"That newspaper. Can I have it?"

I blinked.

"Are you reading it? Whose is it?"

"Mine. From home."

"Well, are you reading it?"

I wordlessly handed the interloper the newspaper.

"Are you sure?"

"Sure. Thanks."

"Thank you."

Nonplussed is not an adjective that one can easily link to my name, but I assure you, I was nonplussed by this interaction. My socially gifted husband maintains that this sort of interaction is both normal and common among the gregarious, but I'm not so sure: The newspaper was clearly part of my stuff (i.e., it wasn't on a seat beside me on the commuter train, for example). People person or no, you cannot tell me that it is commonplace for adults to ask for (all but demand in tone) access to what other adults possess, no matter how trivial the possession might be.

Or can you?

Well, kind of.

Assuming this transcript of the interaction is accurate (no reason to suppose that Mrs. M-Mv is making it up or embellishing), the request seems to have been made fairly brusquely, but in my experience, that's not an uncommon thing. When people are gathered together in a boring circumstance, and one has a newspaper and another doesn't, someone may ask if they can read the other person's paper. Now, this usually comes with all kinds of extra verbiage, though: not "Can I read that?" but, "Hey, do you mind if I read your paper? I didn't think to buy one." If this is met with a skeptical glance, then one follows up with, "I'll give it right back, and I promise I won't fold it funny or do your crossword puzzle."

In my experience, bringing a newspaper into a group of adults is not unlike a kid walking onto a playground with a ball when none of the other kids brought their own: somebody's going to want to play with it, and they're going to ask if they can. But it's also my experience that this only applies to newspapers (or, more sporadically, popular magazines like Time or People). I've never sat in a waiting room with two books and had someone ask if they could read the one I'm not reading.

In short, newspapers aren't seen as "community property" if someone walks in with one, but they are seen as something cheap that one shouldn't feel ashamed to ask to look at for a moment. That's my take, anyhow. Thoughts?

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Yes, and people also buy newspapers, read them, then leave me in restaurants, waiting rooms, and other public places for others to read later. Maybe this is the equivalent of people asking for a "light," like in movies from the 1940s.