Wednesday 19 November 2014

The Smile of Insincerity

Does anyone know how to deprogram phlegm?

I'll explain what I mean, but I hope nobody takes advantage of this, for I cannot stand any more crazy.

The definition of a lady, in some circumstances, is a woman who knows how to make a guest feel at home, even if he walks into the bathroom when she is in the bath. I think this was the worst thing a gently raised Englishwoman could imagine back when this definition was minted. And as there is no lock on our bathroom door, I have cause to think about this often.

As a matter of fact, I am much more of a shower woman; thanks to the bizarre behaviour of our hot water system I can never run a tubful of hot water. But I know perfectly well what I would do if an unexpected guest walked in on me as I splashed happily away under the suds (for what is the point of a bath without bubbles?): I would immediately sink down to the neck and say in tones of great cheer, "Hello, my dear! Need the loo? I'll be right out."

But this will not be because I am an English lady (alas) but because this is how I react when I am in a state of acute dismay.  Only later will the embarrassment of the moment occur to me, and then I will brood about it for hours on end. For example, I hate very fast driving, but when a female friend drove me to a bridal shower at 160 km an hour on Ontario's Highway 401, I uttered not a word of reproof. I was much too terrified. But eighteen years later, I am very cross indeed. How dare she? We could have been killed!

This tendency towards delayed rage has its good side and its bad side. The good side is that it got me a job with a Canadian government department, which could have eventually led to a very high position in the civil service had I not been too much of a flibbertigibbet to want one. There were three tests, about which I probably cannot tell you about as I seem to recall some talk about the Official Secrets Act. But I will say that one of the tests involved my future boss pretending to be an unhappy customer and slamming down his mobile phone before me.

Later he told me he had been very impressed, for although he had ranted and raved and shouted, I never flinched or lost my expression of frozen calm. I vaguely seem to recall saying such things as "Well, sir, you are absolutely right to be angry, and I will certainly put this right." Ironically I was at the time in a verbally abusive relationship, so facing crazy with frozen patience and polite insincerity was all in a day's work, as it were.

But that is a example of how phlegm is not always helpful. I would have been a much happier woman if, instead of being endlessly polite and insincere to crazy-acting men, I had told each and every one to **** off.  But, you know, to this day I have never told anyone to **** off.

However, I have come to the conclusion that the best and most effective reaction to crazy is "Don't do that." It would be much better to say "Don't do that" and have a short quarrel than to pretend nothing bizarre is going on and brood about it for hours or days or weeks.

Fortunately, all this this does not apply to B.A, and I think it is due to the miracle of marriage, or because B.A.'s craziness is limited to a morbid fear of vinegar and his own unique rules about eating food in front of the television, not that I would ever admit that we ever do such a thing. True love, I see, means always being able to say "Stop putting egg and cream in every pasta or rice dish," even at the risk of momentarily hurting the loved one's feelings. But how weird that in my life absolute frankness is restricted to the most intimate relationship, and thus "Don't do that!" is tantamount to saying "I love you."

But this is an absolutely ridiculous situation. Oh how I hate being an Anglo-Saxon sometimes. I am sure it would be more comfortable to be Italian or French. (I suspect being German, Russian or Polish is not comfortable at all.)


  1. You should try being Anglo-Irish: you are constantly wanting to tell people to **** off, and on the verge of doing so, when the image of your darling Grandma comes into your mind, and the idea of saying such a shocking thing in her saintly presence leaves you speechless with horror.

  2. I can't. I tried identifying as Irish, since my dad is technically an Irish-American and he and I LOOK Irish-American, but it felt so fake. I'm a fourth generation Toronto Scot (of the east coast Lowlands variety) and that's just how it is. Apparently I say dryly devastating things on a regular basis (e.g. "slum hair"), which is one of the defining characteristics of my mother (and my sisters).


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