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Honour Your Inner Magpie

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ruminations on Scandosotan terms and culture (reprint)
elf hill
So I found this, which is something I wrote a while back, and given the recent discussion, it seems sensible to put it here:

Etiquette Among the Scandosotans

Chapter Three: Asking Questions

And then there's finding out if somebody else wants something; this somewhat more complex (not to mention time-consuming) inquiry-indirect form of negotiation takes place between two or more people; to wit:

Yen: Nice schnitzelbank they got over there at Prange's.

Toe: [nods, while making "yeah, well, it is" mouth expression -- or, if the person is really garrulous or really fired up by the schnitzelbank, they might go so far as to say something out loud such as:] "Yeah, you got that right," or, possibly, "Sure is."

Yen: I suppose, you know, ah, that if, ah, a person got one of them things, then, uh, maybe a person wouldn't turn it down, hey?

Option One: The inquiry, and sort of the offer, too, have been made; if Toe doesn't want a nice new schnitzelbank from Prange's, then...

Toe: Oh, well, you know...an old reliable schnitzelbank will do a person just fine, I figure. Yah?

Yen: (amiably) Oh, yah, that's true. [nodding and making the same sort of mouth expression that Toe made earlier] Yup.

Option Two: The inquiry and sort of the offer have been made, and Toe really really does want that new schnitzelbank, and is delighted and touched by both the offer and who is making it, and doesn't scruple to say so, so...

Toe: Oh, well, hey, a person would be pretty excited about that, I bet. (Toe's tone of voice is elaborately casual in a way that conveys to an initiate that Toe is not making an offhanded agreeable remark, and happy in a way that indicates interest, but not so much interest as to make Yen uncomfortable if Toe has somehow misunderstood what the deal is here, ya know. Plausible deniability. Offering a face-saving vagueness kinda deal.)

Yen: Yeah, I suppose a person would be. [companionable silence, in which nothing more about the schnitzelbank is said; the silence on the subject of the schnitzelbank will continue, in fact, until the schnitzelbank appears one day, either in the barn or shed or dooryard, or else under a lot of wrapping paper on some official-type occasion of acceptable present-giving; in either case, Toe acts -- and genuinely is -- startled and touched that a person would go to so much trouble to get such a splendid thing for somebody; if it's a wrapping-paper occasion, Yen might say either "Well, I figured you could use that," or, if Yen is close to Toe in some significant* way and wishes to affirm that intimacy (whatever it may be), Yen might go, "Well, you know, I knew you wanted that. I knew you'd really like it. And, well, you know, I just figured you ought to have one of those." Which, if it's a really nice sturdy new schnitzelbank, is a very high compliment to Toe, and both Yen and Toe know it, as do Trey, Fea, and Fem, if they're present at the occasion of presentation. Uh-oh. How do I get out of these brackets? Oh. Right.]

Option Three: Toe wants the schnitzelbank, but either doesn't feel really deserving of such a fine thing (or possibly of any thing at all) or of somebody else's effort, time or trouble (see previous parenthetical remark), or does feel OK about getting such a fine thing from somebody (which is no small thing, you know, hey?) but wants to make sure that the person wanting to give it is not under the impression that Toe values them more for giving such a splendid thing than for the basic everyday unremarkable** goodness of the friendship/marriage/whatever, which is after all the important thing, rather than the trifles of this world, even a trifle so fine as a nice new schnitzelbank... or, and I should probably be embarrassed even to list this option even though my example characters are fictional and probably wouldn't know I was saying it, but *I'd* know, which would be... um, sorry, had a flashback to my Lutheran childhood there for a moment. Where was I? Right. Um. So on the off chance that Toe is the kind of person who merely wants to make Yen *think* Toe is properly modest, not big-headed, and holding the proper values and attitudes towards Things Of This World, Which Though Splendid, Are Dross, and towards The Things That Count, Really -- [fx: thump and scramble noise, followed by silence save for the panting of the narrator] Sorry; I thought I fixed that five-six lines ago. Anyhow, I got it back into the box now. So, uh.... right, proper attitudes. So if Toe just wants Yen to *think* Toe's not greedy (i.e. doesn't want anything -- and yes, I know that's a screwed-up way to think, but I'm not making it work that way, I'm just reporting, here) and not full of desires (ditto previous parenthetical) or any number of other things (particularly if they're true)... Well, in any or all of the aforementioned cases***, then...

Toe: Oh, well, it's a really nice schnitzelbank... but of course, a person can make do with an old schnitzelbank just fine. (The level of unconvincedness in the sound of Toe's voice here is a measure of how badly Toe wants that schnitzelbank. And if that's really really a lot, the following phrase might be added.) I mean, a person shouldn't really go to any trouble, or anything. (Note here that the referent of the term "a person" has shifted; in the previous sentence, "a person" meant "me, Toe", but in this sentence it means "you, Yen". This means, roughly, "Please assure me that it's OK with you if I want this thing [if it is], and that you really mean to be checking out whether I want you offering me it, [if you are], because I sure wouldn't want to get it wrong and land us both in a terrible situation full of imposition and rudeness and resentment and I don't know what all****." Also note that there are several very similar phrasings using the words "go to any trouble", and that these may be said in several very similar tones, but that the similarities conceal vast distinctions in meaning, and that getting them wrong might result in I don't know what all. [see above])

Yen: (Here we'll assume it's cool, and that Yen is serious, and glad to be finding something Toe really wants, which is, for reasons no doubt becoming increasingly clear to the unfamiliar reader, rather a challenge around these folks.) Oh, well... [smiles and shakes head a little] No, I think that, you know, if a person had a schnitzelbank like that, it might be pretty useful. (This, in as an encouraging tone as possible, without being so overly encouraging as to verge on pressure, thus accidentally giving a person the idea that they maybe are going to have to accept the doggoned schnitzelbank just to keep from disillusioning Yen, whose innocent happiness about finding just the right [wrong] thing to give a person is something only a heartless monster could shatter. [Eeesh*****.])

Toe: Oh... [in tones of slightly flustered self-deprecation not unlike Jimmy Stewart in certain movies] ... well, but... [It's important here that the tones be slightly flustered but not at all distressed or unhappy-sounding, because that might mean Something Else Again*******. If the tones sound a bit incredulously happy and thrilled but also like Toe is trying real hard not to let on that this is the case, that's probably just about right, then.) Oh, that... that would be... Well, that's a darn fine schnitzelbank, is what it is. (A small [and quickly smoothed out] grin of delight is appropriate in certain circumstances, at this point.)

Yen: (Yen, if pretty darn friendly with Toe, might go so far as to allow a broad smile to become just about actually visible on the horizon of the face, here.) Yeah, it's a pretty one. (Note that in this, and indeed in all following phrases in this paragraph, Yen's favorable comments may ostensibly be about the prospective schnitzelbank while in fact being about Toe, or at least about how Yen values Toe. This is known as Not Getting All Mushy Or Sentimental Or Anything.) It, uh, looks like it'll hold up pretty good. [pause, and nodding with satisfaction] (PLEASE NOTE: At all times during this paragraph Yen must look off in the distance or down at some piece of work or whittling or pretty much anywhere except at Toe, because if Yen looks directly at Toe while saying this paragraph, especially with certain tones of voice and full eye contact, Yen is either pledging lifelong oathfriendship, conveying notice that they have made their will in favor of Toe and would furthermore like Toe to be executor, or making a proposal of marriage, depending on the assorted genders, preferences, and proclivities of Yen and Toe.********) Yep. [nod] It's a good one, all right. [satisfied nod] [affectionate and/or companionable silence]

Toe: [silence, punctuated by an almost imperceptible pleased sigh]

(Note: this amiable silence can continue until the engine is fixed or the peas are all shelled or it's too dark to fish, or any other natural transition point. Unless a person starts to think that a person might get uncomfortable or something. Not that a person is saying that they think a person necessarily *is* getting uncomfortable, of course, or that there would be anything wrong with it if they did. Um, so how 'bout those [kohlrabi/Packers/bluegills], anyhow?)

So that's kinda how it works. Sorta. In a compressed sort of way, I mean.

Footnotes to the text:

* significant ways include but are not limited to: lifelong friends, family members who like each other, spouses or equivalents thereof, buddies from work that are true friends, and so forth.

** unremarkable not in the sense that it's so plentiful as to be cheap or taken for granted, but rather in the sense that it's such an important thing that a person probably honors that importantness by not cheapening it with remarks about it, which only make a person look like they are either bragging or afraid they might lose it and are fishing for reassurance.***

*** Yes, my people are screwed up. I know. But that's how it is, there, and hey, I didn't make any remarks about whatever, uh, remarkable things your people might say or do or believe or eat (or all four, for that matter), a person might point out.

**** "All die; O, the embarrassment!" as Joe Haldeman's characters say in his short story "A !Tangled Web".

***** which translates to either "Uff-da!" or "Oy vey iz mir!" just as easily, by the way. (I think it came from "Ish-ka-la!" which is what my bunch, or part of them, say instead of "Uff-da!" A person can get a great deal of inflection into "Ish-ka-la!" if a person wants to. This is, ah, a pretty well-known fact.******)

****** I dare ya to either translate this particular sentence in this comment of mine accurately or make one of the appropriate replies in the terminology of my people. I double-dare-ya. Uh, if a person wants to, I mean.

******* Like, maybe, that they have already had this conversation earlier with somebody, and they suddenly remembered that, and they don't want a person to get them the schnitzelbank because that would be Awkward, but they don't want a person to think that they don't appreciate a person wanting to get them something so fine, taking the time to inquire about it so politely, or any of a number of things. Or maybe they just finally parsed the conversation up to this point and were asleep at the switch up 'til now, but are suddenly aware of the importance of stopping this here train before something goes off the rails or someone says something straight out in so many words, or both. Which might mean that they finally figured out that Yen is offering, or would like the privilege of being able to offer, a gift of inappropriate, um, magnitude and/or intimacy to their relationship format hitherto, which kinda indicates to a person that the water looks to be getting a little deeper, and if a person hadn't intended on swimming, a person might want to get back up on shore.

Obviously, all sorts of havoc could result. (Very little of which, of course, would show above the waterline, but still.)

******** Oh, yeah; you think I'm kidding. [untranslateable facial expression involving a small widening of the eyes while nodding once and inhaling slightly]


*********(About time, too, hey? Eeesh. Some people's kids.)

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The last baby shower I attended, there was a contest for who could bring the most appropriately-emblazoned onesie. The cuteness of the geek jokes was definitely present in large quantity.

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