Stevens & Banter

Weymouth. Free image via Pixabay.
There is a group of six or seven people gathered just a little way behind me who have aroused my curiousity a little. I naturally assumed at first that they were a group of friends out together for the evening. But as I listened to their exchanges, it became apparent they were strangers who had just happened upon one another here on this spot behind me. Evidently, they had all paused a moment for the lights coming on, and then proceeded to fall into conversation with one another. As I watch them now, they are laughing together merrily. It is curious how people can build such warmth among themselvs so swiftly. It is possible these particular persons are simply united by the anticipation of the evening ahead. But, then, I rather fancy it has more to do with this skill of bantering. Listening to them now, I can hear them exchagneing one banetering remark after another. It is, I would suppose, the way many people like to proceed
What I've just read is from the novel, The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. It's one of my favorite books, and anyone who's read it would recognize that banter is one of the underlying themes in the story.

I'm sure, given the the novel's and the author's popularity (just a trivia, in case you don't know it yet) the novel's adapted into film and Ishiguro is a Nobel Laureate. As I was saying, given its popularity, a lot must have already been said about the topic of banter, but here's how I respond to it, especially in the context of the story.

A quick check on my English-Tagalog dictionary confirms my knowledge. Banter translates as biro, tukso, and kantiyaw in Tagalog. There is an aspect of playfulness to it, nothing malicious or damaging.

The Tagalog word is sort of one-way, though. One person teases another, as in my friend is teasing me about putting on too much makeup and wearing my best dress because my crush will be at the party.

Whereas banter seems to be a two-way game. In both cases, however, there is an intimacy involved. Because you talk about or banter about personal things, perhaps a hidden sentiment, like the example about my crush.

So if you engage in banter, depending on which side you are on, you are either allowing a piece of yourself to be exposed, or you are poking in a sensitive part of a person. And so if you're not careful, it could end in hurt feelings; but if all goes well, there's a tenderness that forms between you and whoever your are bantering with.

In my experience, I hated it most of the time because I'm super sensitive and people aren’t always charming and good with words and reading other people. Or maybe I'm just really super sensitive.

And so, I've always thought of bantering as something you do when you've already created a friendship with another person. Once there's a certain comfort level, then you can banter, you can tease.

Now, in The Remains of the Day, we have Stevens, who is a quintessential English butler. Proper, dignified. Serious, if I may add. In his prime he has served Lord Darlington to perfection. He was very loyal, too.

After Lord Darlington's death, he started working for a Mr Farraday. Mr Farraday is an American, and I'm not sure if it's because of the American culture, because as I understand, banter is a huge part of English or UK culture as well (feel free to educate me here, you're very much welcome to do so).

Anyway, going back to Mr Farraday, he is expecting that kind of playful exchange with Stevens, and Stevens thinks that he's letting Mr Farraday down, because he’s not skilled or well-versed at all in the art of banter.

At one point Stevens refers to banter as a duty. That not returning it might be a form of negligence. But he also has qualms because what if your response was inappropriate? It might cause trouble.

What is happening with Stevens and Mr Farraday in the novel is the opposite of what I've grown to believe as the purpose of playful teasing. For me, it is somewhere on top of the hierarchy of the things you do when you’re close to someone. A measure of intimacy. But for Stevens and Mr Farraday, and apparently the strangers around Stevens, banter can be the beginning of a close relationship.

I would like to end this minicast by reading the rest of passage from the novel, and take Stevens’ voice or Stevens’ words as my own.

Perhaps it is indeed time I began to lok at this whole matter of bantering more enthusiastically. After all, when one thinks about it, it is not such a foolish thing to indulge in — particularly if it is the case that in bantering lies the key to human warmth.


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