Tasty Talking

[This post comes from the end of my September trip to Europe; I’ve got a ton of notes, and ideas for several posts, but haven’t gotten around to writing them. I’ve just been talking about writing. Tasty talking. Here’s one, anyway–Kelly]

In the security line at the Boston airport, at an ungodly six a.m., through bleary eyes I stared at this TSA lady reciting the procedures with a semi-autistic mix of cheer and robotics. I blinked hard and stared, zombie like. Was she real? Plastic smile. Perfect hair. Sing-song words: “I’d like to ask you all to please remove your shoes and liquids, and to remember that we request…” and so on about the rules, on a never-ending loop. Wash, rinse, repeat.

What is this tasty talking?!

One of my last stops in Europe was at the house of my friend Marko Prezelj, who’s like a Slovenian version of a real Chuck Norris. When Marko does pushups, the earth moves (among his countless world-class ascents, his and Andrej Štremfelj’s ultra-committing alpine-style new route on Kangchenjunga South ranks as one of greatest of all-time). Marko has a great mind, sharp intellect and insight, and a manner that, well, sometimes some of us might consider a little bit direct. I like it. Probably because sometimes I’m too far the opposite.

What the fuck did this lady mean, “I’d like to ask you to…”? She doesn’t really mean that. We don’t have a choice. This is not ‘Nam, there are rules here. It is not a request, it’s an order. If I don’t comply, I don’t fly. Fine. So why this tasty talking?

The “tasty talking” term comes from Marko’s classic blend of Slovenian-English and his dislike of sugar-coated bullshit. It can take different forms. I got the original story over wines (plural because we drank several bottles, and they were different varieties).

Marko Prezelj (left) tells the story of Tasty Talking to Urban Novak and me.

Goes like this: When he was in the Charakusa Valley with a crew of American climbers (Doug Chabot, Jeff Hollenbaugh, Steve House, Bruce Miller and Steve Swenson) in 2004, in the mess tent one night the always cordial Swenson politely asked Marko to please pass this plate or that, then the salt, and then to please, if he wouldn’t mind, to also pass the pepper.

Marko can be impatient. This isn’t always a bad thing. He gets shit done. And it’s just the way he is – I remember first meeting him in France, year ca 2000, and as we climbed a multi-pitch ice route, his version of a belay transition went as such: I was on a ledge off to the left, bringing him up the first pitch. He cleaned the screws. Figured he had enough for the next pitch, so why waste time? He might’ve said something – if so, it would be like, “I keep going” – before continuing straight up the middle of the next pitch, not veering the slightest toward my belay. If not impatient, at the least Marko is direct.

So the salt and pepper weren’t far from Steve. He’d have to reach a little across Marko to get ‘em himself. Steve, polite. Marko, impatient. And trying to eat. The whole trip, all the Americans had been courteous to the point of sickly sweet, at least in Marko’s eyes. Cultural thing, perhaps. Anyway, the final request – for the pepper, or whatever it was – triggered a rant that birthed a classic term among Marko, the American crew, and our mutual friends:

“WHAT IS THIS TASTY TALKING?!?! You want the pepper. The pepper is right here! Why this ‘please will you pass’? Take the fucking pepper! No more tasty talking!”

Two routes in the Charakusa now bear the tasty talking name, by the way: “Tasty Talking” and, appropriately enough, “No More Tasty Talking,” both on Naisa Brakk.

Naisa Brakk is the pyramid on the left. The sun-shade ridge facing the camera, starting from a notch midway up (reached via the gully on the right), is Tasty Talking (House-Prezelj-Swenson, 2004). A couple of days later, Bruce Miller and Marko started the ridge from the base (lower left) and continued up TT, calling the full line No More Tasty Talking.

Lady, just tell me to take my shoes off.

In the West, we have a tasty talking culture. (No surprise from my vantage point, I admit, living merely an hour from the People’s Republic of Boulder, home to polite invitations that should perhaps be amended to consider asking people to please stop being so pretentious; but now in *Boston*, for fuck’s sake?!) Everything – even the negative – is framed in the positive, we’re all winners, and soon our lies aren’t lies they’re just misrepresentations and different ways of looking at things. We try to make ourselves look better than we are, and the little lies become so common that we hardly notice. It’s dishonest.


“Some people say: If you have nothing nice (tasty?) to say, say nothing. I can fully respect that in the usual complicated life where we have to be clowns, gladiators, posers, prima-donnas and other characters, if we really want to prosper. In the mountains, when we play our game honestly, I learned that only clear/simple communication works.

“I like climbing also because of its difference from popular pretending culture where instant attractiveness to others is a norm. Dishonesty and hypocrisy, covered with so-called good manners or politeness, creates fake emotions and stimulates vanity. I don’t like that in alpinism.”

Hayden Kennedy climbs Tasty Talking, Charakusa Valley, 2011.

But climbers can be every bit as bad. Maybe worse. Depends on the person – you, me – and how we want to be. We see this dishonesty in climbing reports where the climber/editor/publisher conveniently omits inconvenient details. In my 12 years editing the AAJ, I had to straighten-out plenty of bullshit. And, in general, I’ve lost count of the times I’ve read that someone got to the top – only the “top,” it turned out, wasn’t the real top but, rather, the place they retreated from. Or a headline reading that they freed the route – only buried in the details was that they used a point of aid, or did it on top-rope – but hey, c’mon, we’re all winners here, and if the rock would have been dry they could have freed it…. It’s bullshit talk.

Other times, tasty talking isn’t really tasty, but an attempt to be civil. Cool. At least it starts that way. But too often we’re unable – or, worse, unwilling – to say what we mean, say what we want, to tell it like it is. I do it, too.

Important note: You do not have to be an asshole to stop with this tasty talking. You can still be a nice, decent person, and not be full of shit.

So I think Marko has a point. At its best, tasty talking is inefficient and annoying. At its worst, tasty talking is like passive aggressiveness mixed with dishonesty. If you didn’t reach the summit, don’t tell me you reached your personal summit. Tell me where you retreated from. (Then wax-on about what it meant to you, if you wish.) If you couldn’t do the route on top rope, don’t come down and spray that you can hike the route next time. Shut up, pull the rope and send. If you failed, you failed. You’ll fail at more important things in life.

And if you’re telling me to take my shoes off, don’t frame it in some long-winded request. Tell me to take my shoes off. Say please if you like – one extra word isn’t horribly inefficient, and it makes me feel all fuzzy inside.

Remember that classic scene in Pulp Fiction, with Mr. Wolf and John Travolta? “So, pretty please, with sugar on top. Clean the fucking car.”

When tasty talking becomes the norm, words become a riddle of intent, and lose their meaning. Words exist to convey meanings. Maybe a little less tasty talking might not be such a bad thing, and so I invite us all to perhaps consider what this man is saying (if we don’t mind, of course).

Enough of this tasty talking.

3 thoughts on “Tasty Talking

  1. You’re still single, right? 😀

    For most of my life I’ve been Mr Wolf, but a succession of upset girlfriends have been turning me into Vincent. Do I have to choose?

  2. Gee, Mr. Cordes, I’ve enjoyed your writer’s voice and the sentiment expressed, and….. OOPS! I mean, “right fucking on!”

  3. Nothing in this world without sugar is delicious. Every baby knows that.
    That’s why only seven entrees on McDonald’s menu contain no sugar.

    If taste is a matter of choice, less is more.
    Do we have any choice when everything must have f… sugar on top?
    Organic please.
    Thank you.

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