14 March 2014



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

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.'"

"Your what?"

"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"


Sheila said...

I am laughing so hard at your word!

But yikes, your culture must be hard to have a secret in!

I am a "go ahead and tell the story" person. "You going to try for another baby?" "Definitely!" "Want a girl next time?" "That would be nice!" "How many do you want?" "I'm hoping for a big family, but I don't want to get ahead of myself!"

Yes, these questions are personal. I suppose I shouldn't encourage people, because others do find them offensive. But I just think people are making conversation, I like talking, and since I share a ton about myself on my blog with total strangers, what's a few more people up in my business?

It's only with people close to me that I can't be open ... that is, "No," "I am upset with you," or "Please leave me alone" are things I never say.

My husband is the opposite. He has no trouble saying "None of your business" even to coworkers or other people whose good opinion he should (in my opinion) care to keep, and no trouble saying "I'm mad at you" to his mother or me. I guess it's just that I want to make everyone happy all the time, and he doesn't care so much.

The answer I usually hear recommended around here is, "Don't you think that's a rather personal question?" But I suppose Filipinos might *not* think so. Or I suppose you could burst into tears and say "I don't want to talk about it" -- thus spurring no end of gossip, but probably preventing them from asking ever again.

I think you are right .... though perhaps you *shouldn't* have to apologize, since they are doing what is culturally accepted and you are not, it is probably the best thing to apologize before saying you'd rather not discuss it.

Angie Tusa said...

I also have a hard time saying no to people, so I wish you luck with it! If you find out the secret you'll have to share it. :)

I know one thing I have heard and occasionally do try to remember is that if someone asks you to do something you don't want to do, you don't need a huge reason or excuse why not. They say most people will respect a simple, polite "no" or "I can't."

Of course that doesn't really apply in the situation you describe here, but I think I would have been so flabbergasted that someone had the nerve to ask me about that I don't really know what I would say!

Entropy said...

Love your word. It's funny because I don't think of you as a pushover at all.

Some options:
-My husband is very good at just not saying anything. Silence usually makes the other person uncomfortable and they move on.
-You can be like a politician and answer the question you wish they would have asked.
-Or you could just say, dismissively, "long story."

I don't usually confront intrusive questions ("How many kids are you going to have? You know how that happens right?") but being unapologetic seems to be the best way to disarm them.

love the girls said...

I had never heard of Bazinga before, but even after looking it up I'm still a rather mystified by your word choice.

How is a catchy phrase to a clever prank helpful to your plight? Or do you mean the jelly fish, in which case I'm still mystified.

Enbrethiliel said...


Sheila -- A secret? What's that? ;-P

Drawing boundaries is actually a new thing for me. Before I started thinking about it, I would have described myself as a "Go ahead and tell the story" type, too. In fact, I was happy to talk about my surgeries (in gruesome detail--LOL!) when I was in high school. Then again, I had been classmates with some of those girls for over ten years. They were hardly strangers! Perhaps I'm getting sensitive with age? It's tough to admit that I do want to get married and have children when someone is bound to say, "But you're so old! Do you think that's still realistic?" (That incident with the assistant stylist happened a few years ago.)

I guess you could say that I don't mind sharing, but that I do mind other people's comments. But it doesn't seem right to be very forthright when someone asks a question and then to shut down a response with, "That's not up for debate." So perhaps the line should be drawn earlier.

Angie -- Now that you bring it up, there's a sense in which these questions are a way to get me to do something I don't want to do. And I agree with you that I don't owe anyone a big excuse for saying no, although I definitely owe people some courtesy of manner.

Come to think of it, my main inspiration was the younger sister of my best friend. She spent six months in the US last year as an intern, and for weeks, she basically accepted anything anyone asked her to do. She thought saying no would offend people or make her look like a bad worker. Then one day, she heard another intern say, "I can't do that. I'm swamped. Ask somebody else." And the guy asked somebody else! She said that what she learned from that experience is that if you don't stick up for yourself, nobody will stick up for you. She was a lot more assertive when she came home. My best friend said that at first they thought their meek little sister had been abducted by aliens!

Entropy -- Both my friend and my colleague suggested "It's a long story," but I rejected it because it seemed too evasive. That is, it didn't seem very ballsy!

Since works well, too, but I don't know how to use it. There have been a couple of times when I fell silent while trying to think of a comeback, only to have people think that the silence was the comeback--and a highly effective one! But I can't seem to be tactical about it.

Sheila said...

Want to be *really* gutsy? Try, "To be honest, it hurts my feelings that people always ask that."

I have never tried this. It is acceptable to be closed-mouthed in America, but I imagine people would be extremely offended if I asked them to be considerate of my *feelings.*

love the girls said...

Sheila writes : "I imagine people would be extremely offended if I asked them to be considerate of my *feelings.*"

Just wondering, would you be extremely offended if it was asked of you?

Sheila said...

No, but it seems many consider it a sign of weakness. Almost every day I hear complaints about "how easily offended everyone is" and all these "liberal pansies wanting everyone else to change so they don't get their precious feelings hurt." If you tell someone you are upset or offended and what they say, they *might* sympathize, or they might tell you not to get your panties in a bunch. It's not a risk I am ever willing to take with a stranger.

Belfry Bat said...

I'm fascinated by the distinct three uses of the word "face", here. Would any of them be equally parallel in Filipino?

I'm also curious what could be the underlying priorities that lead to a culture where it's more urgent [one not endager another's... conspectum... in his neighborhood by identifying rude questions] than that [the other should not endanger his own conspectum by not asking questions rudely]. Does he have no duty to your conspectum by perhaps not asking, sub visto tuo, about your facie, which question is reasonably a sensitive one?

But also: I wonder if, having the same conversation here, the passport officer might have been making sure he didn't have a duty to report some violence to some police agency. It's easy for misunderstandings to mushroom into... a lot of mushrooms, I guess.

(vocabularistic note: I don't expect the latin words are used as I've just now used them; I only wanted three different words rather than to run with a pun)

love the girls said...


Not everyone, when american guys show their emotions.

You are a girl, no expects american girls to not show their emotions.

If on the other hand an american guy acted as you do with your flairs of emotions, I would consider him weak and a pansy if he was an american, but I would not be offended, just as I would be at fault to be offended by your showing your emotions.

Enbrethiliel said...


Sheila -- To be perfectly honest, I'm one of those people who is amazed at what others find offensive or insulting. I don't mean the personal stuff, which would be understandable; but more general stuff.

One example I can think of is the time when an Indian friend of mine was asking for a Korean friend's help with his Maths homework. When they were done, he said, "I knew it was a good idea to come to you. Koreans are good at Maths." A Kiwi girl happened to be standing nearby and she turned around and said, "You know, it really, really offends me when people say things like that. Koreans aren't good at Maths because they're Koreans, but because they study hard." He ended up apologising to her, not because she had convinced him that his statement was offensive, but because he wanted to calm her down and didn't really care about winning an argument.

I wouldn't want to make this issue about my feelings, when it's really about my boundaries. My main emotion toward the people who ask the face question is exasperation at their feeling entitled to know. I confess that I also have terrible knee-jerk thoughts, like, "You're as low-IQ as you look, and I'll bet your parents were, too." This is why I want to be extra kind when pointing out that they've crossed a line. It would be too easy to be nasty. =(

LTG -- I'll answer your question as well. Someone sort of asked me something similar very recently. (Actually, he was a little more considerate than that and just said that he didn't want to ask me to stop saying saying certain things he found offensive, but that he wouldn't be coming around while he thought I was still saying them.) I wasn't offended as much as surprised, because I hadn't intended to give offense at all and didn't even see how my statements were as "belittling" as he said they were.

I think there's bound to be a negative reaction from the person who has been told that he has hurt someone else's feelings, especially when he didn't mean to. Essentially, the hurt one is saying, "You did something wrong," when "wrong" is probably dependent on context rather than absolutes. So even if the first person doesn't feel "extremely offended," he might argue the point and seem so. Especially if he raises the possibility that the hurt person is really too sensitive.

By the way, as I've said, the friend in my earlier story was a Kiwi girl, but the friend in my second example is an American man. Now that you've brought up the different reactions the two sexes have to each other, I realise that the Indian boy actually didn't seem offended by what the Kiwi girl said and was totally willing to apologise although he didn't think he'd done anything wrong . . . whereas I felt a bit put out when the American man implied the same thing but was actually considerate enough not to turn it into a fight between us. What I'm wondering is if you think the American man would have done the same thing if I had been male, too.

Bat -- Sadly for your fascination with language, there are no parallels in Filipino. "Saving face" is just my English translation. Quel dommage!

Anyway, no one loses face by asking a sensitive question because this act itself implies that the Asker is blameless, while the Askee is the one who did something wrong. Saving face is about not getting any blame put on you. He was essentially asking, "Who has sinned, you or your parents, that you should look this way?"

As for the possibility that it might have been required, I know it's not. I've had to renew my passport several times and this was the first time the question was asked. The guy really didn't need to know. But I do anticipate that the next time a busybody government employee asks that question, I'll be asking back, "Is that necessary for my documents?"

Sheila said...

That's a good answer!

A lot of times when people say "I am offended" or "that is offensive," what they really mean is "that is wrong." Certain assumptions or common ways of speech *are* wrong because they are misleading, stereotyping, or racist. For instance, if someone in my presence mentioned a person who had been adopted looking for their "real parents," I might very well correct them and suggest they use "birth parents." I'm not adopted, so I wouldn't have any emotional reaction, but I do know phrases like that can be hurtful to some people, so it just isn't nice to say things like that.

What is wrong to say might not always be offensive. Calling an Irishman a "Mick" is wrong, because it is racist, though a good many Irish wouldn't be offended. Meanwhile asking a certain friend of mine how many children she has could be very upsetting to her (she had four and all died), but she could not reasonably claim that the other person had done something wrong. She probably wouldn't say anything to imply the other person had done wrong, but it would be okay for her to put it on herself and say, "You know, that question is actually difficult for me to answer, and I'd rather not."

Of course that just makes people more curious! So she usually answers straight out with her story, and everyone is sorry they asked. There's really no pleasant way out of that one.

LTG, when you say "you" you mean "American women," right? I personally don't show emotion in public. It seems to me that a woman discredits herself entirely when she does so, because it is "expected" and taken as proof that she's irrational and everything she thinks can be discounted.

On the other hand, when a man displays emotion in public, it seems there is a big loss of face there too, because it's unexpected and taken as unmanly. Parents train their sons early in life not to show feelings, to the point that seeing movies where men cry in appropriate circumstances was very upsetting to me when I was a kid. I felt these men were weak, unmanly, and unworthy of respect.

I don't feel so now. In real life I have seen a total of two men ever cry, and both instances I respected them more for it. But both men begged me never to tell a soul. It's just that unacceptable.