Banter: A Social Idiot’s Guide

Settle down, kids, it’s storytime.

A few months ago, I was trying to order dessert in Nando’s.

“Hello, please can I order some desserts?”, I ask.

Good start, I think. This is going well. But then it happens.

“No, we don’t have any left.”

Ah. I’ve seen this before.

“Haha,” I say, uncomfortable, “Good one. So, I’d like- “

“No,” the guy interrupts me, “We don’t have any desserts left.”

I stare at him. He looks at me like I’ve just asked for a Mango & Lime burger with an Extra Hot Flag*.

“What, really?”

“Really.”

His tone and expression say, why would I lie to you?

Well, yes. Good question. We don’t know each other. He has nothing obvious to gain from lying. And yet, I am used to this sort of lie. We don’t call it “lying”, though. We call it “banter”.

The very next day, I am in a Wetherspoons, having just eaten breakfast. Looking for the toilets, I can’t see any staff, so I ask a guy who looks like a regular if he knows where they are.

“Nope, there aren’t any toilets, love.”

The familiar discomfort kicks in. Ok, we can do this. Just got to get through a few seconds of awkwardness where I play along and pretend to believe you, then you’ll tell me where the toilets are, laugh at my gullibility, and we can both get on with our days. But wait – remember last night? Maybe there aren’t any toilets. In a world where Nando’s can run out of all things sweet by 8pm, why not a toilet-less pub?

“Oh…”, I begin.

“Haha! Just kidding, love! They’re down the stairs.”

Ok, love. I make my way to the stairs which seem to have been deliberately hidden in the darkest corner, secretly seething. But I knew! I’m inwardly screaming, I knew you were lying! I had thought I understood this thing, this banter. But last night’s experience has thrown me off.

That’s when I realise: it doesn’t matter. All the guy wanted was for me to act like I might believe him for a second, so he could get back to his friends and his pint, and have a giggle about the crazy lady who thought the pub had no toilets. And all the Nando’s guy wanted was for me to believe that they had no dessert, because, you know, they didn’t.

So, from now on, I’ve decided: I’m going to act like I believe every piece of nonsense I’m told. If I ask for directions and you tell me you’ve never heard of the Eiffel Tower, if I walk into your lingerie shop and you tell me you’re out of knickers, all you’ll get from me are polite smiles and mild surprise. But know this: inside, I know what you’re about. Though I’ll laugh along at what a silly little woman I am when you reveal that of course I can have some ketchup with my chips, know that I was not fooled. Not really.

Especially you, Nando’s guy. I still don’t believe you, and I want my dessert.

 

*Side-note: apparently people really do this.**

**Side-note #2: by “people”, I mean “men”.