The real freshman conversation

    Sincerely Candid Confession: My Wildcat Welcome experience primarily consisted of the illusion of social empathy. I vaguely pretended that your stated major bore any interdisciplinary relation to mine. I nodded in artificial interest as you explained how many HDMI cables webbed your shoddy Xbox setup. I enthusiastically requested your course schedule with no inherent intention of mentally storing it. I even flat-out lied about having a crippled aunt in Sioux Falls, too.

    But the gorgeous irony is that you probably deceived me with equal or greater cynical vigor. In celebration of conversational insouciance, I present a theoretical welcome-week exchange — and its sometimes-obvious undertones:

    Freshman A (Spoken Sentence): “Hey, my name is Freshman A.”
    Freshman A (Actual Meaning): “We’ve been standing within arm’s length at this contrived social event and you’ve yet to acknowledge me. Stop scrolling through your iPhone contacts. You’re fooling nobody.”

    Freshman B (Spoken Sentence): “Oh, hi, I’m Freshman B. I don’t think we’ve met yet.”
    Freshman B (Actual Meaning): “I know we haven’t met yet.”

    Freshman A (Spoken Sentence): “Yeah. Not formally. So where are you from?”
    Freshman A (Actual Meaning): “Well, I once passed you in the bathroom, but I was frantically worried about making it back to my room without the moist towel suddenly unraveling around my midsection and it just didn’t seem like a good time.”

    Freshman B (Spoken Sentence): “Oh, like, what dorm am I from or where’s my hometown?”
    Freshman B (Actual Meaning): “It would be more rhetorically economical to just state both bits of information. However, that would shorten this conversation by approximately four seconds, leaving me with an extra four seconds to float around by myself. That’s horrifying.”

    Freshman A (Spoken Sentence): “How about both?”
    Freshman A (Actual Meaning): “You know what I meant.”

    Freshman B (Spoken Sentence): “Okay. I’m living in Bobb up north and I’m from New York.”
    Freshman B (Actual Meaning): “Go ahead and draw your conclusions. And then ask the question about what part of New York I’m from.”

    Freshman A (Spoken Sentence): “Oh, like New York as in New York City?”
    Freshman A (Actual Meaning): “How am I going to tell this kid I’m from Lincoln, Nebraska? Maybe I’ll be from Nashville, which sounds marginally more cultured. Wait. The Titans played the Giants last night and that may invite a full-on interrogation. Shit.”

    Freshman B (Spoken Sentence): “Yeah. On the edge of Chelsea. And you?”
    Freshman B (Actual Meaning): “I already know the academic question is coming. Do I crack the ‘majoring in undecided’ platitude or play it straight?”

    Freshman A (Spoken Sentence): “I’m from around here — you know, the Midwest. What are you majoring in? I’m majoring in Statistical Methods. I think I want to minor in Philosophy, too.”
    Freshman A (Actual Meaning): “By claiming I’m from an ambiguous location, maybe I’ll minimize that feeling of geographic inferiority. Unfortunately, doing so maximizes the opportunity for follow-up questions, but I’m one step ahead: I managed to swiftly change the topic to our majors. Oh, and did you catch that major-minor dichotomy? Mathematics and a social science. Who’s sophisticated now, city slicker?”

    Freshman B (Spoken Sentence): “I’m actually majoring in, uh, ‘undecided.’ Ha. Honestly, I have no idea what I want to do.”
    Freshman B (Actual Meaning): I’m noncommittally hip. Academic monogamy ain’t in the cards for this Weinberg wizard.”

    Freshman A (Spoken Sentence): “Oh, um, that’s interesting, I guess.”
    Freshman A (Actually Meaning): “This conversation is officially doomed. We managed to fit in the hometown, dorm and major questions. I guess I’ll ask Freshman B for his num — “

    Freshman B (Spoken Sentence): “Well, it’s been nice talking. I’ll see you around. I’m going to catch up with this Medill kid I met earlier. Apparently we both have grandmothers in the same Iowa retirement home. Small world, huh?”
    Freshman B (Actual Meaning): “My grandmother is actually dead, but I’m all for playing along on yet another welcome-week lie.”

    Freshman A (Spoken Sentence): “All right. I’ll see you around.”
    Freshman A (Actual Meaning): “What’s your name again?”


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