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12/29/2010

Read Between The Lines

Who ever came up with that line is nothing short of a criminal genius.

To tell someone to read between the lines means to refer someone to dealing with subtext rather than text, like it happened to me last week.

I was standing in line at the post office waiting for someone to attend to my needs. I was fully dressed in a complete Siberian-style outfit with a winter coat, heavy boots and a beanie. I was sweating excessively when I finally reached the counter. The woman in charge looked seriously annoyed, so I quickly started talking business. Stamps, a package delivery and ten bin bags to go, please! I thought I was funny. Lighten the mood a little, charm her with my wit! Boy, was I wrong! The woman just stared at me like I was the reincarnation of pure evil on my way to Stalingrad. We’re all out! She just barked at me and quickly ran off to the adjacent room behind the counter.

Out of stamps? I called after her hesitantly, but she was out of sight. Hello? The line behind me was getting longer and people started twitching impatiently. I was seriously considering following her into the storage room, when she finally came back. Give me your parcel! I didn’t dare to resist and handed it over immediately. I didn’t know what was wrong with her. She threw my parcel on a large pile, took the coins on the counter and yelled Next! to the person behind me. I was so stunned, I didn’t even insist on having her attend to my other errands. This woman was seriously scaring me.

The man standing behind me tapped me on the shoulder and said: It’s her first day, she doesn’t know where anything goes. I turned around to him. Obviously I looked disgruntled, because he added: Don’t take it personal. You have to read between the lines here.

There it was - my second least favourite phrase in the world. What an odd thing to say. Now don’t get me wrong. Understanding social situations is essential if you consider calling yourself a human being. But what does my understanding her being new to the job have to do with anything? It wouldn’t have changed the outcome of this transaction. I wouldn’t have gotten my stamps or the trash bins. Would I have been less confused? Maybe, but that’s beside the point.

And how am I to know the difference between a first day, a bad day or a general crappy demeanor? I had to leave the store without stamps. Read between the lines. I really wanted those stamps.