Seriously, folks, it is NOT that hard to pronounce ‘foreign’ names
Last Saturday, I went to an arts festival with two friends. We decided to walk around and watch various festivities, including various dance performances from different children cultural dance groups. It was a fun experience: it was a bright, sunny, and festive day, everyone around us seemed happy that the snow left our wintery city and hearkened the (brief) return of summer, and I enjoyed watching different dances from pairs of Polish teenagers performing courtship rituals to young Chinese girls doing intricate umbrella dances.
The one minor annoyance that rubbed me the wrong was was the way the emcee kept making jokes about her inability to pronounce these ‘difficult’ names. It was perfectly understandable for her to make the joke once, but she did it every time she introduced each performance, from the Polish dancers to the Chinese dancers to all the other dancers in between! It was the same joke with the same tired punch line: woe is me for being tasked to introduce acts with ‘foreign’ names! Hahaha - isn’t it funny how their names are simply indecipherable? What is ironic about her droll lamentations was that these performances were supposed to celebrate cultural diversity. Instead, I got the distinct feeling that she was ‘othering’ these performances, giving the impression that the names - and thus, the cultural groups - she was introducing were just so “ethnic” that they did not warrant genuine appreciation.
Here’s a tip for her and for future emcees: before introducing each act, why not ask the performer their names, write down their names phonetically, and repeatedly clarify whether you are saying their names correctly? This takes all of two seconds. I can guarantee that the performers will appreciate it.
And yes, for the record, I, too, have a last name that at first seems hard to pronounce for English-speakers but is actually pretty easy once you figure out how to connect each of the three syllables that link my name together.
Proof that petitions and letters do make a difference: an update on Alex Sodiqov’s case
A massive and heartfelt thank you to all of you who read my blog, read my posts about Alex Sodiqov - the University of Toronto PhD student who was arrested while doing field work in Tajikistan - and were inspired to sign petitions and write letters on his behalf. I heard today that Alex has now been released and will be resuming his studies in Toronto. This is proof that the letters we write, the petitions we sign, and the phone calls that we make really do make a difference!
On the virtues of carrot bisque
The other day, I was pressed for time and had to rush back home to make food for a potluck. Surveying the contents of my fridge, I saw that I had a lot of carrots, onions, and chicken stock. The memories of a recipe I once read came into my head involving pureed carrots and stock and so I decided to improvise. I eyeballed the butter in the fridge, putting a few tablespoon’s worth, after which I put in an entire diced onion. While letting the delicious buttery scent waft around the kitchen for a bit, I sliced six or seven medium sized carrots, which I then placed in the pot. I added stock, wait for it to boil, reduced the heat, and, after the carrots were sufficiently mushy, I retrieved an immersion blender and pureed the soup. The recipe, I remember quite clearly (but I can’t remember which book it is from), called for the inclusion of an entire can of evaporated milk. And there was also evaporated milk in my cupboard!
The result is a delicious, hearty soup. When I served it at the potluck, one of our guests - an exuberant, opinionated six-year-old - kept praising the soup’s virtues, calling it the “best soup” she has ever tasted. (Don’t you love how children don’t hesitate to give compliments? Of course, if the soup tasted yucky, children also wouldn’t hesitate to say so). It was so good, in fact, that when I bragged to MOTL about it, he decided to make it too. That’s actually the bowl of soup he made pictured above. I guess the addition of the can of evaporated milk made the soup especially silky, providing a good counterpoint to the saltiness of the stock - I used low sodium chicken stock but even low sodium stock can be a bit too salty.
Out of all of the things I’ve cooked recently, this carrot bisque is probably the tastiest yet. It’s easy to make, it took me maybe 30 minutes from start to finish, and it is incredibly delicious. Go make it today!
The things people have said to me when they found out that I am in a long-distance relationship
Presented without commentary:
From a well-meaning older auntie-type: “Wow. WOW. So he lives there, and you live here? Listen, you need to be careful. Remember that a lot of women are husband-stealers. If they see that your husband is living by himself while you are away, he will be more attractive. And he might fall into their trap and be seduced by them. And”…*leans over to me, touches my arm, and whispers*…”you’re pretty but you’re not getting any younger, so you need to watch out for these women. And if you’re husband is really handsome, you have even more to worry about.”
From a good friend: “Oh man, that sucks. That really, really, really sucks. It is shitty. SO shitty. It’s like the shittiest thing ever. I could never do it. I don’t know how you can.”
From a beloved family member: “Whoa. So you mean your husband gave you permission to work away from him?”
On power-hungry time-keepers during conference panels and cultural insensitivity
Last week, during one of the conference panels I decided to attend, the chair and discussant, who I will call Dr. X, was extremely conscientious about time-keeping. Normally, this is a good thing. You want to make sure that panelists have enough time to talk, that the discussant has enough time to provide feedback, and that the audience has enough time to ask questions. With a 15 minute window to go to your next panel at the end of each session, and with the conference spread out between three hotels, it is especially important that the panels end on time.
In this case, though, Dr. X was clearly lording over his power. At the end of the first two presentations, he kept saying that it was good that the two speakers spoke within their allocated time allotments, but then stressed that the remaining speakers needed to stick to their time because otherwise, when it was time for him to speak, he “won’t be able to say good things about the papers.” Someone in the audience tried to lighten the atmosphere by saying, “wow, Dr. X, you have good things to say about the paper,” which led Dr. X to throw a deathly glare at the person in response.
The third speaker then stood up. It was clear that English was his second language, and he started his presentation, saying, “thank you so much to everyone for attending this panel, to the organizers of this section…”
"Yes, yes, yes, just get on with it. Stop blathering,” Dr. X barked, his arms crossed.
The poor presenter turned red and then begun his presentation. It was clear that Dr. X’s intervention rattled him, though, and that it was difficult for him to recover.
I’ve observed the same power-tripping time-keeping tendencies among overly-eager chairs in other settings, including a human rights conference where most of the participants were non-native English speakers and clearly needed more time to articulate their thoughts. In this instance, it didn’t help that the chair had an obnoxious habit of snapping her fingers then banging her hands on the table once the allotted ten minutes each speaker were given was up. “STOP. YOU ARE OUT OF TIME. STOP. YOU ARE OUT OF TIME,” she would bark.
Conferences, particularly those where a lot of the attendees are from non-English-speaking countries, should make allowances for folks who need more time communicate their thoughts. It is extremely culturally insensitive and rude to cut people off so abruptly. Also, academics, who have a tendency to become power hungry over the most inessential things, including time keeping, really need to chill the fuck out.
When listening to a conference panel and it is clear that the discussant did NOT read the papers
I think everyone in this room is incredibly embarrassed. Should we leave? Should we pretend that this didn’t just happen? Let’s all avoid making eye contact, shall we?!
How I feel about conference panels starting at 7:30 am
Looking at the schedule for the upcoming American Political Science Association conference, it completely baffles me to see the schedule packed from 7:30 am…until 11 pm, when different association receptions are supposed to end. And this takes place over a period of five days. I like nerding out as much as the next academic, but how do you survive five full days of poli sci?! And to think I was bitching about conference panels starting at 9 am a full two years ago! Does this mean that next year, I will be going to conferences that start at 6 am? Hey, here’s an idea: why not just have all day and all night panels. Let’s not sleep at all! We all know that genius strikes when we’re delirious!