What do you do for a living? My wife’s cousin’s son is First Mate and sometimes Captain on a ocean-going freighter. I never know how to describe him when I’m talking to strangers. English is an amazingly powerful language and we have WORDS for so many things, but too often we don’t use them.
Other languages aren’t as complete. Simply put, they lack sufficient words. When I was on a speaking trip to Poland my interpreter took a good 50% longer to translate my speech into the language of the land. It bothered me, but after having worked for a company that did foreign language translations I realized it’s a fact of life.
The company I worked for took English manuals for construction equipment and translated them into 10 other languages. Depending on the language the amount of text could vary radically. 50%, 60%, even 70% longer depending on the nature of the topic being discussed. In Spanish, for example, when talking about machinery there were a lot of “of’s”. A part which in English might be described in two words (manifold cover) became in that language “the X of the Y of the Z of the Q”. All languages are not created equally.
Of course language isn’t the only reason for mass confusion in descriptions. If you ask me “what I am” or “what I did”, I don’t fall into a simple or a single category. My wife worked for a hospital holding company where she was in charge of the refund department and twelve employees. I on the other hand had numerous jobs across numerous fields and I’ve never known what to tell people when they ask “What did you do for a living” because I did a lot of things.
I am fascinated by names and language. When I hear a new name my brain starts to cogitating and I often ask questions instead of just saying to myself “Ok, that’s a new name.” The other day I got a haircut and my haircutter’s name was Lado. I’d never heard that as a name. I know a Ludo or two, but never a Lado. I asked the cutter about their name and I found they were from Albania. Four years ago they moved here and (it having been a cold, cold morning) it’s a bit too cold here for them but they like living here anyway. We talked about the differences and similarities between Albania and Poland (where my people are from, and where I have visited) and Milwaukee. It was a very pleasant time.
I say that because over the weekend I read an article about how some people are offended by questions like “where are you from?” I accept that not everyone knows their heritage; and perhaps “heritage” really doesn’t mean much of anything. Poland for example is the highway between East and West — which is to say anytime Europeans started a war they went marching through Poland. I suspect (as I haven’t bothered to have my DNA tested) that I have snippets of DNA from all over the place. It seems soldiers have never been overly careful about NOT impregnating the local population. However, none of what went before me was in my control. I’m not embarrassed by it because I had nothing to do with it. I would think that no one else would be either — but after reading about people who are offended by such questions I accept that’s not true.
I sometimes wonder if I’m being rude by asking questions. I’ll talk to anyone; that’s just who I am. I talk to cashiers at checkout, people in the grocery store line behind me. In campgrounds I talk to people I meet while walking, and other men in mens room. I’m friendly. I’m probably also inappropriate, but I figure the only way to get to know someone is to talk with them, and I’ll be doggone if the only thing I’ll talk to a stranger about is the weather!
Descriptions are wonderful things. They help us get our minds around the world around us. I wish there were a shorter way of saying that we know a First mate on an ocean going freighter. It just seems like there should be ONE WORD that says that, or maybe two words, not seven!
Of course the odd thing is that categories have universally annoyed me. I never seem to fit into categories and with my photographic background I know I see the world more as a gray scale than as black or white. As a result when I’m categorizing things — like photographs — I always have a hard time because almost everything blurs over the lines of any category. Photographers use “key words” to help find images on any given topic and I inevitably apply too few key words to my images because I can see that they don’t quite fit into the pre-arranged categories other people use; they’re a little bit of this and some of that.
People are like that too. We may not fit into categories but we can’t go through life ignoring categories either. We need them to make sense out of the world. I’m a question loving guy and I don’t think I have offended too many people in my lifetime by asking inappropriate questions, but I’ll never know for sure. I know I have sometimes been unaware of other people’s tender spots; not that I have done things to intentionally offend them, but I’m sure I have done it nonetheless.
As for me, “What am I?” I’m friendly, I’m probably inappropriate, I’m sincere, I’m up for a challenge but I accept I carry with me limitations that madden me from time to time. More than that, I’ll let others decide.