In which I remind myself that "germane" ain't just another Jackson

I'm going to take a moment to talk (i.e., complain bitterly, because That Is What I Do Best) about unsolicited, extraneous information. I've been receiving a fair amount of it lately. I will give you two examples.

1. During a phone conversation with my mother, I was describing something Lorelei had designed that incorporated the image of a hand making the "OK" sign, where the thumb and forefinger make an O, and the remaining three fingers stand upright. My mother gasped in a musical and prolonged way peculiar to our family's females of her generation, and said in a tone of great secrecy and importance, "She shouldn't use that... In SOME countries, it means 'A.H.'!" She meant "asshole," of course, but is too proper to say the word. Nevertheless, she clearly relished the task of cluing me in on this matter of international intrigue. In her world, there are no simple meanings--everything has an unsavory subtext, of which only fools are unaware. even if you can't say the word, you must know all the symbols for it, in every country, in every language, in order to avoid saying or indicating it, no matter where you are. The matter is so important to her that she wanted me to inform Lorelei, whom she's never met, to prevent an international scandal. I responded by saying that in Brazil, that particular hand gesture means "Fuck you," which I'd learned the hard way, and that ended our discussion of international gesture etiquette.

2. This morning, I sent out a note informing my coworkers that the carpets on the first floor are scheduled for cleaning later this month. I got a message back saying, "In England, the second floor is the first floor, and the first floor is the ground floor." Damn. Once again, my ignorant America-centrism reveals its ugly face. Were I truly the multi-cultural sophisticate I pretend to be, I would have included the phrase "known to our European friends as the 'ground floor' " in my message.

While I would like to think otherwise, I suspect that my irritation stems from the fact that in both cases I cited, I already knew the information being imparted. Somehow, I felt like my base of knowledge was being challenged, and it was my duty to reply that I KNEW already, but failed to include it, as it was extraneous. As I have come to understand it, communicating factual-yet-unrelated information puts one securely in the category of Know-it-All, a group whose members make up for unpopularity with an enormous helping of self-satisfaction. It is a smug and lonely bunch, and I should know, because a) I spent a large amount of time amongst their ranks and b) I apparently still have at least one foot firmly in their circle. Damn! To many members of my extended family, an enormous bank of trivial knowledge is less a hobby than a direct reflection of one's character. Conversation becomes nearly impossible, because everyone waits for someone to omit a fact, thereby allowing another speaker not only to add the fact, but to deride the other's intelligence. It's a fun bunch, I'll grant you that, and they trained me well in the necessity of relaying all the information about a subject at once, or be forced to concede the superiority of the listener. It's black or white. Know it all, or know nothing. It's very, very important to know everything, and to talk about it all, all the time. These are people capable of heated arguments over a single line of a poem, or the correct pronunciation of the word "wolf," and my horror centers around my understanding that I am more like them than not, and further, that the value I place on intellectual superiority outweighs both its actual importance and my own intellectual capacity.

I'm getting off the point, which is: Other People Irritate Me, OK? [And here I am making the hand gesture for "OK," fully aware that in Brazil, it means "Fuck you."]

Star of the day. . .Seldom Seen Smith
posted @ 10:39 a.m. on November 11, 2004 before | after


She lay awake all night,