This post is kind of late because it's about my word for 2014, and posts like this are usually published in January . . . or early February. =P Although I knew my new word as early as that, I didn't want to blog about it just for the sake of blogging about it, and a proper opportunity didn't arise until last week. So here's your first clue . . .
Well, what do you see? ;-)
Another reason I dragged my feet about writing this post is that I said last year that the best word is a verb. And as you can see, this year, my word is a noun. A verb is at least implied, because my full resolution is "To grow some you-know-what" (Get it now?), but it's more fun for me to stick with the noun going forward.
This idea came to me late last year, when someone I live with felt kind of yucked out by one of my no poo experiments, but didn't want to say so directly. She preferred to register her disapproval by saying, "I'll bet everyone in your office is grossed out by you" (Actually, they weren't) or "I don't know how you can stand yourself" (I was feeling pretty good about myself, thanks). I didn't figure out what was going on until I finally snapped, "If the people at work don't have the balls to tell me they have a problem, then it's not my problem is it?" She shut up immediately . . . and a light bulb went on.
What I want to do more of in 2014 is to say what I mean and to be as direct as possible, as a way to respect both myself and others. It can be as simple as saying, "Thanks, but I'm not really interested in that sort of thing," instead of saying, "Thanks, but maybe next time." (After all, I don't actually want there to be a next time, do I?) I'm tired of being the person who can't give "No" for an answer.
Last week, however, I found myself in a situation that would have been the perfect time to put this resolution into practice, and I didn't do it. =( Having had time to think it over, I see that if I had shot from the hip, things might have ended badly and that it was probably wiser to revert to my old pushover personality for the few seconds it took to get myself out of there. But I want to be ready in the future. So I started running the scenario past different people, starting with my mother.
I asked her: "What's a nice way to say, 'It's none of your business' in Filipino?"
"There's no nice way to say 'It's none of your business' in Filipino, and I hope that a daughter of mine isn't planning to be rude to someone."
"But what if it's a very personal question? Like, 'Why aren't you married yet?' What would you say?"
She thought it over. "That's hard. It's tough to tell Filipinos, 'That's not your concern' [Translation mine], without making them lose face."
"What if I smile winningly and squeeze them gently on the arm when I tell them that, so they know that I'm not being adversarial?"
"There's no way to say that and not be adversarial."
* * * * *
My mother was no help, so I brought the issue up again with an old friend, who didn't see what the big deal was.
"I get relatives and my parents' friends asking me that all the time," she said. "You just deal with it as politely as possible until they move on to torturing someone else."
"They weren't actually asking me about my marital status . . . The guy wanted to know what happened to my face. And he wasn't a relative or a family friend."
"Well, what's the context?"
"I was at an office of the Department of Foreign Affairs and he was processing my passport application."
"Oh! So what did you tell him?"
"What do you think I told him? I told him what he had no right to know. And I've felt bad about it ever since."
"You shouldn't. Think of it this way: what if you offended him and he had tampered with your passport out of pique?"
"That's even worse. He shouldn't be using his government job to learn things that are none of his business."
"Well, why didn't you make up something wild and crazy and obviously not true?"
"Because I want to say what I really mean and to be direct with others, remember?"
"I just don't know, Enbrethiliel. You're going up against an entire culture here."
* * * * *
If you want to see a cultural clash, watch the video
@0:20 to 0:28, @2:50 to 2:55, and @3:50 to the end
@0:20 to 0:28, @2:50 to 2:55, and @3:50 to the end
The last person I asked was a colleague from work, who is twice my age and everyone's favourite counselor. And she agreed that my approach would have to be adapted to the values and norms of the rest of the country.
"You know what Filipinos are like, right?" she asked. "They'll ask you anything to your face and then tell the whole neighbourhood behind your back! But they mean no harm. It's how they show you they like you."
"I know . . . I'm sure I've done it as well, which is why people have had to tell me point-blank, 'This isn't for your blog.'"
"Never mind. Anyway, what would you have done in my place?"
"I think I would have said,"--and here she switched to a supplicating tone--"'I beg your patience [Translation mine], but that's a big trauma from my past and I don't want to talk about it.'"
"Why beg his patience when he was the one crossing a boundary? I don't think strangers even have the right to know if something was a personal trauma for me . . . or to know any of my feelings about it."
"But you don't want to offend them, right? That's why you're asking for advice. So how about this?" She changed her tone again: "'I beg your patience, but I really don't want to talk about that.'"
Despite having suggested a "winning smile" and a "gentle squeeze on the arm" a few days earlier, I had to protest. "Do I have to say it like that?"
"You have to say it in a way that doesn't make the other person lose face for doing something that's culturally acceptable."
* * * * *
If a former friend could hear me now . . . A few years ago, it was I who was trying to help her establish some boundaries when other people would cross them. She had been really offended when she ran into an old high school classmate whose first question was (predictably), "Are you married?" . . . and whose follow-up questions were (unexpectedly), "Why not? What's wrong with you?" (LOL!)
At the time, I was firmly in the No Big Deal camp. And I guessed correctly that right after asking "What's wrong with you?" the classmate laughed to signal that it was a joke. Furthermore, right after my former friend told me that story, I had one of my own to report. This time, the questioner was a total stranger: the stylist's assistant who was about to blow dry my hair.
"What did you say?" she asked, clearly hoping I had put him in his place.
"Nothing. I just smiled and he didn't press the issue."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, he said, 'Never mind. You're still young,' and he turned on the dryer." (LOL again!)
Anyway, I've managed to work out a line on my own. Not for the marriage question, which honestly doesn't bother me, but for the face question. The next time someone asks me what happened, I'll just smile and say, "I beg your patience, but I don't tell that story to someone I don't know."
Image Sources: a) Balls!, b) Sheldon Cooper ball pit "Bazinga"