Blind date

The experience of discovering people ... all relationships start somewhere, with a first impression, and that is particularly true of first dates. The text that forms the basis of this page comes from a newspaper series that asks two people who meet on a blind date to write up their impressions of the other afterwards - thus illustrating how we all read situations and experiences differently, even if the basic facts are exactly the same...

In one sense, language is always subjective. No matter how impersonal and formal may be the language chosen, a written text will always reflect something about the intentions, approach and resources of the writer (or writers, if written by a committee) - and anyway, will always be interpreted in slightly different ways by every reader, according to assumptions, biases and interpretative intelligence.

Given that fundamental axiom, we need to encourage students to 'read between the lines', to read critically and imaginatively so as to decipher the subtle details which reveal meanings which are not stated explicitly but are rather implied.

One way of developing students' interpretive skills is to ask them to compare and contrast the ways that different writers may handle the same subject matter - for instance, different reports of the same event.

Reporting a blind date

The UK newspaper The Guardian offers a blind-dating service, and gives people a questionnaire to find out how the blind date went.

The example that forms the basis of this page deals with the date between Joe, 27, marketing manager, and Jess, 25, postgradute law student. Who seem to have had a pretty good evening... despite beginning badly with Joe arriving in completely the wrong restaurant to start with!

Here's the text - see what you make of the evening, and of Joe and Jess.

The sequence

  1. Give out the text, and ask the students to read it carefully (after making sure that they understand what 'blind date' involves)
  2. Take vocabulary questions - such as "dishevelled" ... "disarming" ... "manic" ... Do the students understand precisely what is being suggested in each of these short, but carefully phrased, responses?
  3. Ask for an assessment of the type of language used by both - formal/informal? ... educated? ... sophisticated? ... precise? ...etc
  4. Elicit overall impressions of the evening - did Joe and Jess have a good time? did they like each other? Require specific reference to the text to back up answers to these questions.
  5. What impressions do we form of each person?
  6. What similarities are there between the two reports of the evening?
  7. The key question - what differences can we see between the two reports? And how would we interpret these differences?

Some differences...

Here are differences that I have noticed. You can project these (using Presentation mode), either to start the discussion about differences and interpretations, or as back-up if the students find it hard to notice differences and draw inferences from them.

Beneath each pair of quotes, click on the show/hide icon to look at my interpretations.

Good table manners?
Joe ... Yep. We skipped dessert for some liqueurs instead, which I have a lot of time for.

Good table manners?
Jess ... Very good: he was a sharer – the only way to eat Chinese.

They both think the other had good table manners, but...

...  Jess ... is the one who talks in detail about how Joe ate, whereas ...

...  Joe ... doesn't explain about Jess' manners, but rather what he likes to drink at the end

First impressions?
Joe ... Confident, relaxed, pretty; the opposite of me.

Describe Joe in three words?
Jess ... Interesting, easy-going and outgoing.

Jess ...  thinks that Joe was "easy-going and out-going", whereas...

Joe ...  thinks that her first impression was "the opposite of me" - that is, NOT "confident" or "relaxed"

BUT - maybe this is a false interpretation - Joe is talking about first impressions, while Jess' remark is presumably an overall impression about Joe at the end of the evening

Best thing about Jess?
Joe ... Her disarming conversation.

What do you think he made of you?
Jess ... Probably that I talk quite a lot.

Joe ... thinks that the 'Best thing' about Jess is her conversation, whereas...

Jess ... seems to worry that she talks too much - is she insecure about talking and being a bore?

What do you think she made of you?
Joe ... A sweaty, manic and apologetic mess. Hopefully worth the wait.

Best thing about Joe?
Jess ... Really easy to get along with.

Joe ... seems to think that she would have found him a "mess" (embarrassed about having gone to the wrong restaurant, and then having had a stressful time getting to the right one), whereas...

Jess ...  doesn't seem to think about that at all - she found him "really easy"

And... did you kiss?
Joe ... Just one on the cheek before going home.

And… did you kiss?
Jess ... We had a peck, half cheek, half lip – does that count?

Joe ... sees the kiss as just a token, a normal politeness ("one on the cheek"), whereas...

Jess ... gives us much more detail (observing that the kiss seems to have been poorly aimed!) - and she wonders what this signifies ("does that count?")

A thought - is Jess better at observing things than Joe? - consider what she has to say about table manners...

Would you meet again?
Joe ... If Jess would like to.

Would you meet again?
Jess ... Sure, he has my number.

Is each leaving it up to the other to decide?

And how do we interpret that?

Follow-up writing

The handout provides a blank version of the questionnaire format, as a template. This could be used for an entertaining exercise in imagination and expressive writing. Like this...

  1. give out copies of the template
  2. ask the students to imagine a blind date - they have to invent two persons, and then imagine how those persons might get on if they went on a blind date together
  3. they should then write up answers, from both characters, using the questionnaire format. The answers, as in the Joe & Jess example provided above, should contain similarities and differences, which should show how the two different people saw the same event.

The easy version of the task would be to imagine a blind date which went pretty well, as with Joe & Jess. The more challenging, but perhaps the more entertaining, task would be to imagine a blind date that was a disaster. For example, where one (arrogant, self-centred) person thinks the date has gone incredibly well, while the other (sensitive and sensible) person thinks the first was a complete jerk. Or, more intriguingly, where both persons are insecure and think they have made a bad impression, while in fact each thinks the other was charming, funny and pleasant... a comedy of errors?

In short, encourage an exploration of different points of view of the same situation.

LINKS

This task will involve skill in imagining and recounting a story, so have a look at the section Narration, and in particular...

Narrative observed ... an analysis of a graphic novel creates a situation and introduces characters

In the restaurant ... a more sophisticated narrative about observing other people

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