Rhodri Marsden: Why the long goodbye should really be a good deal shorter

Life on Marsden

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Australians in particular will be aware that when you leave Australia you have to say cheerio to people you won't see for quite a while. Humans, of course, tend to extend the length of such goodbyes in proportion to the length of time they'll be apart. We waste hours waiting with people for taxis, hanging around with them at bus stops, carrying their luggage onto trains and sitting with them for slightly too long in a nerve-wracking game of "train-departure chicken", or waving and crying while they stand 5m away in a long, snaking, almost stationary queue for passport control.

This achieves nothing except unhappiness, of course, so I've been trying to perfect the art of the efficient goodbye. This combines the speed of the farewell I'd normally give to a gas-meter reader with the reassuring warmth of a district nurse. Forget all that wistful standing about. I know it buys you a few extra seconds with someone, but those seconds mainly consist of people saying, "You will miss me, won't you", or "Text me when you arrive, won't you", or "You did go to the toilet, didn't you", or "You will vanquish the enemy mercilessly, won't you", to which the answer is always yes. It's redundant chat. Upsetting chat.

To execute an efficient goodbye, simply express your delight at having seen the other person or persons, ask them which direction they're heading in, then immediately head off in the opposite direction, even if that means walking purposefully into the sea or sauntering off the edge of a cliff. It's easy to prevent parting from being such sweet sorrow; just don't say "parting is such sweet sorrow". Instead, say "parting is a pain in the arse, but what can you do?" then shrug, smile and jump on an escalator.

I'm writing this on a flight from Sydney. Earlier, two efficient goodbyes were executed perfectly, resulting in minimal suffering for all concerned. Textbook! Which isn't to say that there wasn't some blubbing afterwards in the airport lounge café, but suddenly a lamentably hideous cover version of "The Sound Of Silence" started playing over the PA, and it was so shocking that it stopped us in our tracks. It would have snapped a widower out of bereavement. "Christ, that's bad," laughed my girlfriend. "You see, we're feeling better already," I said.

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