I was coming out of a store yesterday and a white Mercedes was pulling out of a parking space. A fellow walked up and said “nice car!” to the driver. Now, this probably happens constantly but I never let anything just be simple and thought “what the hell does that even mean?”
Here’s why I would even think such a thing (and feel free to walk away at any point). I really doubt that this guy was just admiring fine engineering, or attractive design, or whatever. I mean, why would you compliment the driver of the car for the design of the car he’s in? He didn’t design it, he may not even know that much about it. Currently, he can’t even see it, since he’s inside it, and the admirer is outside of it. He most likely had no role in build quality, and was not sitting around the table when the various components were decided on. In fact, he likely had absolutely nothing to do with how nice the car is. He’s probably exactly the same as the guy complimenting the car … he saw it, thought it had something about it that appealed to him, and he bought it.
So, is this guy actually congratulating this fellow on managing to identify such a nice car? Really? That’s an achievement worthy of stopping him in the parking lot and making sure that he realizes the immensity of what he’s done? In reality, it’s a shiny white Mercedes … every person that sees it probably thinks to some degree “oh, that’s pretty”. That’s hardly a remarkable feat of aesthetic judgement. Does this guy stop everyone, everywhere, and tell them how amazing they are for realizing that a shiny white Mercedes is nice-looking car? That’s really close to saying “water is wet”or “that airplane really flies through the air” or some such thing.
Let’s rule out that these two are having a moment because they both think that Mercedes are “nice”. In fact, I’m sure that’s not what they’re doing, since they didn’t continue their conversation with discussions of other equally obvious things that they share. One of them didn’t yell “thanks, and hey, deer sure are graceful creatures, huh?” Nope, it began and ended with cars. So, does this guy just feel really strongly that people who are inside of certain models of automobile are worthy of being congratulated for having got in such a nice vehicle? Does he hang out in his spare time at the Mercedes dealership just waiting for someone to get in a “nice one” and the congratulate them on their choice? That seems unlikely as well. But, if he doesn’t just feel that people should be congratulated for managing to get inside of a Mercedes, what the hell is he doing?
I’m pretty sure that he wasn’t looking for confirmation that the car is “nice”. He seemed pretty sure of that, and I don’t think that he would even be able to imagine the guy in the car responding “no, this thing is a piece of shit”, although I would really enjoy driving around in that car and saying just that (to watch the faces as I said it). No, this is a case of two people who already know that they will be in agreement, saying something that has pretty much no significance and an indeterminate meaning.
The most simple explanation is that this fellow is congratulating the other fellow on successfully purchasing a “nice car”. This seems really unnecessary. Anyone can do that with pretty much no effort. Walk onto the lot, find a car that looks like your favourite Hot Wheel, and sign some papers. There’s not a lot else to it. You don’t have to have the money, and the dealer will never say “I’m sorry, but I can only sell these to people who are real Mercedes customers”. You can become a “Mercedes person” just by walking on the lot and going into debt. The bar for entry to this club may be lower than virtually any other club you could join. You could even be so hopeless that you need someone else to tell you which car is nice, and then just buy the one you’re told to. Nope, I realized when I was a kid that any asshole can buy a car, and assholes with really poor judgement are even better at buying really expensive models. So, the complimenting guy doesn’t even know who the driver is, and may be complimenting him for a purchase that means that his family can’t buy groceries. I don’t think that’s what’s going on either.
So, what the hell is this guy doing? This may just be my warped, paranoid view of the world, but I think these guys are doing the aural equivalent of a secret handshake. It’s a nod and a wink, a “we know “nice” … you and me, we’re alike”. That is based on the equally bizarre (to me) concept that somehow your choice of a car not only indicates what type of person you are, but actually makes you the “type of person who buys a Mercedes”. I suppose that by definition you have become “the type of person who buys a Mercedes”, but I don’t buy into the idea that “Mercedes buyers” are a type of person. Adolf Hitler was a pretty devoted Mercedes man (as were pretty much all of the Nuremberg war criminals), as is Mario Andretti, Britney Spears, Hilary Duff, and Sylvester Stallone. Are they all a type? Do Britney and Sly stop in the parking lot and talk about how they and Hermann Goering are like peas in a pod? Seems unlikely.
So, (again) I’m thinking that what is really happening here is that this fellow yells “nice car”, but what he’s really doing (entirely without knowing it) is saying “you and me, buddy … we share the illusion that the act of choosing a car and paying for it, while being a totally mundane activity, has changed the very nature of our beings … we are both members of the exclusive fraternity that knows that a Mercedes is “nice” (even though everyone else knows that too). We are “Mercedes people” and that makes us … uh, special? The thing is, once the high-five for super judgement is complete, there is nothing else. They are two people who, for a fleeting moment, share a feeling that they are part of a special club, the members of which can tell that a car is nice that everyone else also knows is nice, and at least one of them can perform the completely unexceptional task of going to a dealer and signing papers. He then successfully gets in the car, and drives it to the store, where he is congratulated for his achievements (I think). In short, this was a really meaningless exchange.
That’s what I think about when I walk home … weird, huh?