You can tell when you meet a boring person, but can you tell if you are the boring person?

I was at an airport, reading a newspaper, when the World’s Three Most Boring People sat down next to me and started talking as loud as they could without amplifiers. They were so boring I took notes on their conversation. Here’s an actual excerpt:

FIRST PERSON (pointing to a big bag): That’s a big bag.

SECOND PERSON: That IS a big bag.

FIRST PERSON: You can hold a lot in a bag like that.

THIRD PERSON: Francine has a big bag like that.

FIRST PERSON: Francine does? Like that?

THIRD PERSON: Yes. It holds everything. She puts everything in that bag.

SECOND PERSON: It’s a big bag.

THIRD PERSON: She says whatever she has, she just puts it in that bag and just, boom, closes it up.

FIRST PERSON: Francine does?

SECOND PERSON: That is a BIG bag.

I want to stress that this was not all that they had to say about the big bag. They could have gone on for hours if they hadn’t been interrupted by a major news development; namely, a person walking past pulling a wheeled suitcase. This inspired a whole new train of thought: (“There’s one of those suitcases with those wheels.” “Where?” “There, with those wheels.” “John has one.” “He does?” “With those wheels?” “Yes. He says you just roll it along.” “John does?”)

And so on. It occurred to me that a possible explanation for some plane crashes might be that people like these were sitting close enough to the cockpit for the flight crew to hear them talk (“There’s a cloud.” “Look, there’s another …”) and eventually the pilot deliberately flies into the ground to make them shut up.

The thing is, these people clearly didn’t know they were boring. Boring people never do. In fact, no offense, even YOU could be boring. Ask yourself: When you talk to people, do they tend to make vague excuses – “Sorry! Got to run!” – and then walk briskly away? Does this happen even if you are in an elevator?

But even if people listen to you with what appears to be great interest, that doesn’t mean you’re not boring. They could be pretending. When Prince Charles speaks, everybody pretends to be fascinated, even though he has never said anything interesting except in that intercepted telephone conversation wherein he expressed the desire to be a feminine hygiene product.

And even if you’re not Prince Charles, people might have to pretend you’re interesting because they want to sell you something or have intimate carnal knowledge of you or because you hold some power over them.

At one time, I was a co-investor in a small, aging apartment building with plumbing and electrical systems that were brought over on the Mayflower; my partner and I were regularly visited by the building inspector, who had the power to write us up for numerous minor building-code infractions, which is why we always pretended to be fascinated when he told us – as he ALWAYS did – about the time he re-plumbed his house. His account of this event was as long as “The Iliad” but with more soldering. I’m sure he told this story to everybody whose building he ever inspected; he’s probably still telling it, unless some building owner finally strangled him, in which case I bet his wife never reported that he was missing.

The point is, you could easily be unaware that you’re boring. This is why everybody should make a conscious effort to avoid boring topics. The problem here, of course, is that not everybody agrees on what “boring” means. For example, Person A might believe that collecting decorative plates is boring, whereas Person B might find this to be a fascinating hobby. Who’s to say which person is correct?

I am. Person A is correct. Plate-collecting is boring. In fact, hobbies of any kind are boring except to people who have the same hobby. (This is also true of religion, although you will not find me saying so in print.)

The New Age is boring, and so are those puzzles where you try to locate all the hidden words. Agriculture is important, but boring. Likewise foreign policy.

Also, come to think of it, domestic policy. The fact that your child made the honor roll is boring. Auto racing is boring except when a car is going at least 172 mph upside down. Talking about golf is always boring. (PLAYING golf can be interesting, but not the part where you try to hit the little ball; only the part where you drive the cart.) Fishing is boring, unless you catch an actual fish, and then it is disgusting.

Speaking of sports, a big problem is that men and women often do not agree on what is boring. Men can devote an entire working week to discussing a single pass-interference penalty; women find this boring, yet can be fascinated by a four-hour movie with subtitles wherein the entire plot consists of a man and a woman yearning to have, but never actually having, a relationship. Men HATE that. Men can take maybe 45 seconds of yearning, and then they want everybody to get naked. Followed by a car chase. A movie called “Naked People in Car Chases” would do really well among men. I have quite a few more points to make, but I’m sick of this topic.

This classic Dave Barry column was originally published Nov. 20, 1994.

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