I blog gluten-free

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

People First-With Some Apologies to Emily Post and Mrs. Beaton

How do you introduce your friends?
"Oh, Janet, I'd like you to meet Jen. She is a kleptomaniac who also likes croquet and the music of Gilbert and Sullivan. Klepto-Jen, this is Janet, who once ran for the "Puppies to End World Hunger" campaign, has a rather bad habit of chewing garlic cloves whole, (Oh, have a breath mint, dearie.) and once sold herself to an electrician for $5 and a new lamp, but she does have a heart of gold and hasn't run over any old ladies in about three weeks. Well, you two should have a lot to talk about!"

Descriptive language is important and does paint a vivid picture. I can think of two children playing with a ball outside, or I can think of two sun-kissed children playing with a big, blue and white ball, in a sunny meadow.
Your friend Janet has famously foul breath. Your friend Jen needs to be frisked after a party. Some other details aren't really necessary.

How about the words we use to describe people? Jen and Janet seem more human and fleshed out. But what of Bevis, who likes to conduct music while listening to the radio, usually brandishing a large zucchini. One probably would not call Bevis "The Great Zucchini in concert!" One would probably say, "I'd like you to meet Bevis." Now, let's use "the Great Zucchini" one more time. "How is the champagne, Margaret? Oh, fabulous! Margaret, I have someone here that you'll be delighted to meet. Margaret, this is Gangrenic Bevis." (Bevis has gangrene, you see. He's a big hit at parties.)

Cocktail parties would be particularly awkward and frustrating if those with health conditions or rather interesting lifestyles were introduced and discussed rather than, or in a way that their actual fun quirks. (It's also really bad etiquette to (A)Ask someone what they think of a person, to inform them, "Oh. Really? Well, Frank doesn't seem to have a real personality, and always plays parts. Plus, he's really a liar. Haven't you noticed?" or (B) to do this while smiling in Frank's face and bathing him in empty flattery.)
So, let's say you have a friend with a medical condition.
"This is Josie. She has epilepsy."
"This is epileptic Josie. She seems to like that a lot more than 'Spazzy Josie.'."
Which of these is correct? Neither, really. One is not their medical condition. One might use certain adjectives when asking for certain accommodations, but condition-first language aids in dehumanizing ourselves. When this happens, we are left a shell of ourselves.

Here's a fantastic idea: "This is Abigail. Abigail, this is Josie. Abigail, why don't you tell Josie about your collection of pornographic post cards from the 19th century?"
Another no-no:
Person A:"Hello, Felix! How are you?"
Felix: "Hi...I..."
Person B: "Gail! Let me tell you what Robbie (Felix's older sibling) is doing! Oh, Henry too? Oh those guys." (By now, Felix is either standing stock still with a face changing between white, pink, red, and purple, or quietly going outside.) Tip: Sotto-voce insert an inappropriate comment. With luck, they'll have to recover from the shock. Don't be TOO filthy.
Gail: "Felix! How are you?"
Felix: "Gail! Hi! Well, I just started/ have been..."
Person B: inserts embarrassing details and rather well-disguised put downs.
Felix, my friend, there is no escape here. Smile and be polite. But try to say "Excuse me. But I'm Felix, I think." And you probably should have a wine. May I recommend a lovely Reisling called "Relax"?


  1. Christopher MitchellOctober 29, 2014 at 9:15 PM

    I'd love to see those postcards!

  2. I wish more people would show me the post cards. :) Unpleasant stuff could be avoided! :-p I'm glad you caught the ridiculousness- everything tends to sound funny later. And that's one of my many hopes- that no matter WHAT it is, I can get a good laugh out of it. :)