Thursday, May 28, 2009

Someone what?

This morning I was waiting at a very busy bus stop, and someone sneezed. "Bless you...whoever sneezed," a woman schlepping newspapers, and some distance from the sneeezer, called out. I found it all very strange. In fact, I've never really understood the whole blessing someone after they sneeze. One of my colleagues, who is a devout non-believer in anything religious (despite being educated by the Catholic Sisters), is always blessing people around the office when they sneeze.

Someone what...carry on. We don't bless people when they cough or burp or fart, so why when someone sneezes, and how did this all begin?

As could be expected from a habit that dates back nearly two thousands, a definitive answer is hard to come by. Theories abound. And I bet you're itchin' to know, so here is some research I performed on your behalf.

Some believe that the sneeze itself is the expulsion of a demon or evil spirit, which had taken up residence in a person (I'm not sure what this says about my aforementioned colleague who always sneezes in threes), and the Bless You is meant to ward off the re-entry of an evil spirit.

Others believed that the heart momentarily stops during a sneeze. Apparently, it doesn't, but it was thought that to Bless someone was meant as a prayer for life to return or as a congratulations upon its restart.

And others still claim the practice was associated with calamitous diseases, such as the plague. It was said that an infected person's sneeze was sure sign that death was imminent and the Bless You was commending the sneezer's soul to the care of God.

Some believe that a sneeze is lucky and foretells good fortune, thus the "Bless You!" is a recognition of forthcoming good luck, and even an attempt on the blesser's part to attract a bit of the good luck themselves.

Finally, some see the acknowledgement of a sneeze simply as good manners. Though, I'm not so sure. I think people pretend this to be the case. A more probable explanation is that we have been so programed to acknowledge a sneeze that we don't even think about it.

Whatever the reason, I still find it a little odd. So, if I don't acknowledge your sneeze don't think any less of me.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Lost in translation

The other day I went to my Peruvian neighbours to borrow an egg. The Grandmother answered and when I asked for an egg, she told me she didn't speak English. I didn't know the Spanish word for egg, so I held my thumb and index finger up as if holding one. What was I thinking? Of course she didn't know what I was trying to do. Who would? Instead, I started acting like a chicken, in hopes that she would know I wanted an egg.

She looked at me with a puzzled look. I ran to my house, turned on the computer, and looked up how to say egg in Spanish. I dashed back outside, and just then the mother arrived. I told her that I wanted to borrow an egg, but didn't know how in Spanish. "Heuvo," she said, and with that the Grandmother went into the kitchen and brought an egg.

Gracias, thank you, I said, after having expanded my Spanish vocabulary.

The following day I was riding the bus with my neighbour. I told him that I was trying to borrow an egg from his mother-in-law. "I know," he said laughing. "She thought you wanted a chicken."

Now, if you find yourself looking for an egg in Spain or Latin America, or parts of Los Angeles, you'll know. Consider it my gift to you.

This reminded me of the first day Carrie and I were in Korea. We met up with two other teachers and found one of the many small restaurants that dotted downtown Seoul's alleyways. The menu, in Korean of course, was hung on the wall, and unlike many restaurants there were no photographs of the gastronomic offerings. A husband and wife team toiled in this modest restaurant. She in the kitchen, and he out front.

We were seated at a table, and given some green tea. We asked for a menu, and the man pointed to the wall. We were not able to speak or read Korean, and he was unable to speak English. The four of us sat looking at one another, wondering if the only dinner we were going to get would be the hot tea. We looked over at other tables trying to find something that looked good.

The man came back to take our order, and we all looked at each other. The only thing that came from our mouths was an insecure laugh. After what seemed like hours, the standoff ended, when we pointed to a few other dishes that other patrons were devouring, and told him to bring whatever he wanted.

I don't remember what we ate that night, but for the most part it was delicious. But from then on, we made sure to find restaurants that had pictures on their menu.

Monday, May 18, 2009

I thought memoirs were for people with important things to say

Apologies for my blog sabbatical. Whitemanwalking hasn't done much walking, but he has done a lot of thinking and writing elsewhere recently.

So, I read in the paper that vice-presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, is going to be writing a memoir. Aren't memoirs for people with important things to say? An account of something noteworthy, that's how the dictionary defines a memoir. I imagine a memoir to be a thick tome about one's life...full of adventure and thought, like Michael J. Fox's recent work, Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist.

Maybe Palin has led an interesting life, but what importance can someone with 66 days of fame really share? Her professional accomplishments include two three-year terms as the Mayor of Wasilla, Alaska. Maybe she did a great job, but we're not talking big city Mayor challenges. Wasilla's population is less than 10,000. In 2006, she became the Governor of Alaska. Now Alaska may be the largest US state, but its population ranks 47th, only surpassing the equally powerful states of Vermont, North Dakota, and Wyoming. Alaska has two things going for it - Oil, and a nice place for a cruise. Oh, and the highest mountain in North America. But most people in the U.S. (and Canada) wouldn't know that, so does it really matter?

I think the following sums up why you should save your money and forgo the Palin memoir.

"All of 'em, any of 'em that have been in front of me over all these years." --Sarah Palin, unable to name a single newspaper or magazine she reads, interview with Katie Couric, CBS News, Oct. 1, 2008