Balancing Act: The Newsletter (No. 188, April 2015 )
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I traveled from our hotel in Atlanta to get a manicure at a shop owned by my former manicurist in Rhode Island. Her employee who did my nails was exotic looking, and I asked her origin.
"I'm Afghan," she said. Since I'm not the best conversationalist, I've developed a little trick: I know most of the capitals of the world's countries.
"Kabul?" I asked.
"Yes!" she said, and we talked about her parents coming here 20 years ago to forge a better life. When we were done, I contacted Uber to return, and my driver of the huge SUV was a woman dressed so well she could have been going to the theater. I asked where she was from.
"Ethiopia," she said.
"Ah, Addis Ababa?" I asked.
"You pronounced it correctly!" she yelled, taking her eyes off the road to my consternation. She told me she had been here six years, had her own business, and everything they say about this being the land of opportunity was absolutely correct. "I would never return to Ethiopia," she said.
At the hotel, I stopped at the restaurant to get some take-out food for lunch. My waitress had a fascinating accent. I inquired.
"Somalia," she said.
"Mogadishu?" I asked.
"You're the first person here I've met who knows that!" she said, and explained her intent to come to the US, get a job, save up, and attend school.
We are, of course, all refugees from somewhere else at sometime in our lives or histories. It fascinates my how the most recent ones are similar to those of the past, seeing this place as a land of opportunity and doing their best to take advantage of it, thereby improving all of our lives.
This is not a political statement nor a call for any kind of immigration policy. It's simply my observations that the great mosaic here, so impressive when seen from afar, it also fascinating when each separate tile is examined.
The human condition: Social Cues
A lot of people simply miss social cues. They are not bad people, or scheming people, and are often highly intelligent people. We often, unfortunately, call them "clueless."
At an egregious level, they step off the down escalator and stop, looking around to get their bearings, while people crash behind them. They leave the theater and stop in the doorways to discuss the play or find their car keys. They talk on the train or plane on their phones discussing details no one wants to hear at a volume no one can stand.They forget where they are and use locker room vulgarity in social settings.
Very few of these people are malicious, but they nevertheless cause problems we often can't escape.
Sometimes when I've spoken pro bono, the hosts give me some giant gift to take back with me and, while the thought is appreciated, the means to get it on the plane is not. Providing a bottle of wine is a very nice gesture, but can't be placed in carry-on. In fact, meeting me anywhere, and giving me a book a brochure, a memento of any kind, just forces me to carry them around.
Send me the book, ship the wine, or consider the fact that a simple "thank you" is more than sufficient.
I've seen people get up in meetings to try to adjust the thermostat, and failing that, call on the house phone or ask the facilitator to stop and take care of the temperature—even though no one else is unhappy about it. There are people who get up late and then order breakfast which they eat at the table in the meeting, while others are trying to get business done.
I'd like to think that none of these are evil acts, not even passive/aggressive (like the moron at my birthday party who asked me to change the music because he didn't like it!), but they are disruptive because people miss social cues. Are you alone, or do others share your discomfort? Are your actions causing discomfort to others? Are you seeking personal needs not shared by anyone else? Are you shouting into your phone while you stand still in front of a moving escalator?
I'll stop here, because some people make their point and then keep writing for far too long.
Our Siberian Husky, years ago, (not among the intellectuals of the dog world) had looked under the weather and morose, so I took him to the vet. He sat there, awaiting our turn, pretty out of it. Suddenly, he stood up, peed gallons of liquid all over (people were jumping on benches with their animals) and then shook himself violently, and looked like his old self. At that point the vet emerged, said, "Don't worry about the mess, we'll clean it," and ushered into an exam room.
After ten minutes with a very energetic dog, the vet said, "This dog is perfectly healthy, he just had to pee. That will be $75," The dog refused to look at me on the ride home.
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