There is a moment I dread in conversations with strangers: the moment when that stranger–that person I’ve been talking to for a minute or two or five–decides I’m “a little slow.”
It doesn’t happen with every stranger, but it happens often enough that I can pinpoint the moment a conversation turns. To start, we’re both on our best interacting-with-a-stranger behavior, a bit wary, a bit too friendly, whatever. Then I slip. I miss some key bit of information, ask the other person to repeat something one too many times, stutter, backtrack, repeat myself, interrupt again, lose the thread of the conversation, take a joke literally, perseverate. There are a lot of ways it could play out.
The response–the one that makes my skin heat up and my heart race and the blood in my ears pound–is subtle but sudden.
A note of condescension slips into the other person’s…
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