There's No Accounting for Taste

LIFE is full of disappointments. One of the tiniest is being unable to persuade your friends to share in your tastes. There is always a small stab of dismay when you tell someone how much you enjoyed a certain book and he replies that he found it tedious in the extreme. One gets to know one's friends' likes and dislikes, of course, and eventually one stops trying to force them to like dogs or the seaside or Shakespeare or Braque: but their tastes go on rankling a little because it seems so curiously obtuse of them, and nobody likes to be fond of someone obtuse.

I have a friend who is quite certain I would love watching birds once I got the hang of it, and I am equally convinced she would like opera. I can barely tell the difference between a chaffinch and a robin and she cannot tell the difference between Turandot and Tosca, and although we have settled for this state of affairs I think we both feel the other is oddly narrow in her outlook.

Talking of bird watching, I once took a small child to the London Zoo, and there offered him the sight of pretty well all the animals in the world. Separated from him by a mere ditch stood vast elephants flapping their ears; giraffes peered down at him through long beautiful eyelashes; seals swam and dived and barked for him; bears stood on their hind legs and begged; hippos opened steaming cavernous mouths. There were cuddlesome lion cubs and funny monkeys and droll penguins. In fact, concentrated into a few acres, every item of fauna a little boy could possibly wish for.

Not this little boy, however. All this little boy was interested in were the London sparrows bouncing about on the asphalt paths. It was his hope to catch one, and to this end he was entirely dedicated, so that when lifted up to stroke a camel he struggled to get on the ground again so as to pursue his mission. So this, for me, was a disappointing afternoon.

As it was when I took elderly housebound ladies for a drive in the country. For a week before the expedition they were so excited at the thought of seeing the blossom on the bough again, not to mention villages and cows and other rural impedimenta, it gave them insomnia. In point of fact they were so busy, during the drive, arguing as to whether their local post office still sold peppermint candies, so busy discussing television programs and the iniquities of the government, they had no time at all for the scenery. When they were home they said it was the most wonderful experience they had ever had in their lives, the beauty of the countryside having entirely bowled them over; but I knew they had not looked at it. They had looked at each other.

I suppose we all have the spirit of reform in us, and it is a wise person who has not, at some point, tried to develop a taste for ballet in somebody who dislikes it intensely. On the reverse side of the coin there are hearty, as opposed to arty, people who suffer the disappointment of finding their loved ones do not relish the idea of putting out to sea in a small boat or learning to play golf.

Many good-hearted people do, of course, pretend to share the tastes of their friends so that they can keep them company, but the sad thing is they never sound very convincing. Enthusiasm is difficult to simulate for long, certainly for a lifetime, and sooner or later the truth will out. Better, perhaps, to be quite honest from the beginning, establishing at the very start of a relationship that you definitely do not like horses, or music festivals, or eating frogs' legs. After all, a really good friend or relation will love you in spite of your little weaknesses, don't you think?

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