Tuesday, January 18, 2011

smarm school

Yesterday while waiting for the AirBART shuttle bus, I asked the guy standing behind me if he knew if another one was coming, as the clock had just passed the alleged midnight stopping time. He grinned back at me with a big soupy grin, adjusted his sweaty polo shirt tucked neatly into the kind of crisply ironed slacks that people should only willingly wear on long flights if being picked up directly by their job interviewer, and said "Well I checked the schedule on the plane on my iphone and it said it ran until 12:30, so I'm sure staying!"

Oh god, not one of these corporate schmoozer types, I thought. He looks like a business school graduate eagerly trying to 'network' with anyone who gets snared in his cobweb of smalltalk platitudes and too-loud laughter at not-funny commiserations about the working life.

"Ok, good. I guess I just need to be worried about missing the last BART train then." I answered. "Are you going north or south? The last southbound train is at 12:28 and..." (he whipped out his iphone) "the last northbound is at 12:26".

"Thanks, I'm going north" I said. "Oh, are you a student at Berkeley?" "Yeah, economics grad student." "Business school?" "No," (chuckle chuckle, of course not) "phd program. What about you?" "I'm in business school at Duke."

Duke?? Boy, I aimed for the barn door and hit the bullseye.

What is it about business school that breeds these people? They don't go into it like that. If they did, I probably still wouldn't get along with them, but at least I'd understand it. But they don't. Business school teaches it, and the students practice it. This much I also understand; the world operates according to mysterious and unnatural rules of conduct that need to be learned and mastered to succeed in certain contexts.

But after enough practice they seem to actually, genuinely, become it. There's no other reason to talk to a random person on the street like you're at a networking cocktail party. Unless, maybe, they just truly believe that this is the best way to talk to people, in which case I would really like to hear the logic behind that. I am still stubbornly sticking to my belief that you should be genuine in all situations, as much as reasonably possible, because getting places by faking it lands you in places you don't want to be anyway. It's worked for me so far.


Anonymous said...

Actually, I thought you looked smart and nice and kinda cute, you were the only person around within 10 years of my age, and I was just looking for a way to talk to you. I don't usually "schmooze" with random people "like I'm at a networking cocktail party" after crossing three timezones in an aluminum tube all day.

For the record, I am genuinely a nice and outgoing person like that. I hate to blow a hole in your grand theory, but I've got plenty of eyewitness evidence to show that four months of B-school has had decidedly little impact on my personality. Geez, I hoped you'd remember the Dan Ariely reference over what brand of phone I had. Who, exactly, is the shallow one here?

Something tells me you're not from the West Coast. Could be wrong, but we're generally friendlier out here. Maybe you can learn something from it.

Anonymous said...

The author of this article sounds like a smarmy phd student. A guy helps you out with his iPhone and you say he is "networking"? Try southern hospitality. I think you sound stuck up like your degree!

Vera said...

wow, I didn't even tell you my name, nice google skills. (Networking skills? ;)

You mean, I was the only female within 10 years. Anyway, it's not a matter of conceit as you seem to think, some people's personalities just clash. If you were indeed born with yours, you picked an excellent career path, as did I.

sv said...


this boy is a sweetheart. soupy grin and all.

I help out strangers. and smile at them too.
come to think of it, have done so countless times at bart or muni, or even with tourists lost at Powell, since I had the upcoming info on my iPhone... so then, I'm a schmoozer?

...and being a so-cal-born&raised, tree-huggin' Berkeley undergrad turned compostin' public transiting SF-er...who never thought I could handle the east coast or private schools, let alone Duke....I'll vouch that he and most of my class are super down to earth, wonderful, energetic people to be around. Especially dual degrees like him.
(we hope to not be the stereotypical bschool douches and make fun of them.... but then again, we hope... and don't see ourselves through others' eyes)

in any case, sorry you caught him on maybe a bad day for him, or you.

but I'll vouch that he's been nothing but awesome around here!

Vera said...

good grief... I don't want to engage in this line of personal attacks and defensiveness but I'll at least clarify a couple things about what I was actually saying.

I don't know this guy's name but need something other than "he" or "your friend" to keep using, so let's call him Steve.

Steve was perfectly nice. I never said he wasn't. In fact, I'm 100% sure most people in the world would prefer to interact with him than me. That's why they teach the b-school stereotype personality, after all, and that's why I would never survive in a career that required those kinds of skills.

Plenty of people genuinely love talking to anyone and are exceedingly friendly and outgoing and interested and follow certain habits of dress and speech and subject matter and humor and mannerisms that are essentially straight from a "how to make a good impression in a job interview" manual. But the vast majority aren't, but become that way during b-school because that's what you have to do to succeed in business. My first impression of Steve evoked the stereotype that I based my blog post on. Maybe the stereotype is not accurate in his case, but it doesn't really matter, because I was only using that incident as an illustrative example. I would have chosen a different illustration if I'd had any inkling he'd go looking for me online and interpret it as a personal accusation.