One of my favorite things about this story is that there are times when two people are having a conversation but utterly failing to communicate, leading to perplexed blink-blink moments. I thought I’d share a couple of them with you.
The first comes on McFadden’s first morning after arriving in Ztrtkijistan. He has been told to report to the secret police headquarters, but he overslept and now he is late. The invitation itself was frightening enough, but now McFadden imaginies that there is a price on his head.
Fear bubbling in his gut, McFadden paused long enough to speak with the manager, the same man who had greeted him the day before.
“You said you would wake me,” Robert said.
“Yes, yes,” the manager beamed.
“But you didn’t.”
The manager paused, aware that his guest of honor was unhappy about something, but not sure just what it was. “Of course not.”
“But you said you would.”
“Yes. You asked me to, so I said I would.”
“But you didn’t.”
The manager spoke with pride. “I would never do something like that.”
“But then why did you say you would?”
“Because you asked me to.”
Robert stepped back and looked at the man, knowing the futility of pressing forward with the argument, but unable to resist. “So you knew I wanted you to wake me up, but…”
Light dawned on the face of the manager. “It’s all right. They can’t hear you now.”
“It’s not like in your country.” The manager shrugged.
The second conversation occurs when McFadden has moveg into his own apartment, but the heat is on uncomfortably high. He can find no way to adjust the radiators in his room.
Robert stepped into his new place and set down his suitcase. The place was a sauna. he stripped off his coat and sweaters, and he was still hot. This would even be considered warm in America, he thought.
Tjnka also took off her coat. “The landlord has old joints,” she said. “He likes to keep it warm.”
Robert examined the radiators. “How do you turn these down?” he asked.
Tjnka looked at him quizically. “What do you mean?”
“I don’t need it so hot. I’ll just save the energy.”
“But you can’t.”
She furrowed her brow. “Because if everyone in the building could control their own heat, they would take more than their share. It wouldn’t be fair.”
“But I want less.”
“Yes, but that’s not fair either, is it? Then the landlord would have to turn down his heat.”
“You would be paying for some of his heat.”
“But if I turn down my heat, and I am more comfortable, and I’m still happy to pay the same rent, isn’t that all right?”
She shook her head. “I don’t understand you Americans sometimes. You never think of the other person.”