About 3 weeks ago I “met” a colleague working in a different lab here. By “met” I mean: we went to dinner to a restaurant with the same group of people (14 or so, all from EPFL) and he sat at the other end of the table. So in total we probably exchanged about a dozen of words (“Hey, nice to meet you. My name is …”). I “met” him again today, or rather our ways simply crossed on a corridor. He greeted me with an enthusiastic “Good to see you again!”.

Hmm. I find this phony. I mean, we really didn’t know each other at all. What can be so great about seeing a complete stranger again? Of course, this is a cultural thing (… needless to say that he’s American…), but I’ll never get used to asking everybody (even when I’ve just met them for the first time) how they are. If I ask somebody, how he/she is and he/she replies simply by saying “Fine.” this is almost an insult to me. I ask because I care, so I want to know more.

Of course, here in “France” this is similar. Everybody asks you “Ça va?” and this simply means “Hello.”. Likewise, “Bonne journée.” just means “Goodbye.”.

Some people even told me that US universities treat European letters of recommendation differently. A “good” German student would probably be a “great” American student. And if you only mention that a colleague is a “nice” person (and not “wonderful” or “fantastic”) that would for an American sort of imply that you dislike him or at least find him utterly boring.

So, I hope that all of you wonderful people are doing just great these days and I wish y’all a fantastic evening and I can’t wait to see you again (… even if I’ve never seen you before …).

PS: I’ll try to make it a habit to reply, when somebody asks me how I am, “Horrible. Thanks.”. Obviously with the same intonation as if I’d be saying “Great. Thanks.”.

PPS: Of course, I’m by no means saying that the colleague is not a nice, uh, I mean wonderful person.

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