Saturday, March 24, 2018

Grand Unification Theory of All Jim-Related Enigmas

There's a very strange thing that happens sometimes. I'll walk into a Hispanic grocery in the boonies, greeting workers in Spanish. They'll furrow their brows and grow confused and agitated. This guy simply can't be speaking Spanish. It's impossible. Expectation is such a strong force that they're unable to understand me, though I speak the language reasonably well. The fact that I'm actually speaking Spanish doesn't overcome the unassailable assumption that I can't. What's more, it's emotionally fraught for them. Faces freeze in shocked horror and confusion. Friendly and well-intentioned though I am, my visit is not a happy experience for them. Nobody enjoys an edge case. There's a level of surprise that really rattles people.

Another example. I once visited a Punjabi restaurant and asked if they could make a "palakwala". This is a very odd dish to request. Not only is it completely unknown to non-Indians, but even Punjabis aren't all familiar with it. It's like our butterscotch pudding - an item you rarely see anymore, and which only older people even know about. So I asked for this, and the counterman scowled, reached with his tongs, grabbed a samosa, and asked me "Samosa?", stressing the syllables to penetrate my limited gringo comprehension.

In his mind, I simply had to have been asking for a samosa. Americans always go for samosas. Sure, my mouth had performed a series of actions that, in some sci-fi universe, might have been a surprisingly good pronunciation of an extremely obscure Punjabi specialty. But you don't need to be a statistical analyst to apply Occam's Razor and give the clueless American the samosa he's obviously struggling to pronounce. Even though "palakwala" doesn't sound anything like "samosa".

When strong expectations clash with very surprising outcomes, people tend to 1. coast along on the momentum of their initial expectations in spite of all counter evidence, and 2. react uneasily and weirdly to the experience. If this happens around you a lot, it might feel an awful lot like a "Curse".

In my previous posting, I continued trying to understand my long-running experience of provoking very odd and unpleasant reactions from strangers. My failure to project superiority parses, subconsciously, as I seem like someone you'd want to disregard. But the important observation was buried in a footer:
The heart of the problem wasn't that I'm dismissible. It was the clash between that visceral dismissive reaction and the discordant fact that I'm actually interesting. A person three notches below "shlub" is not ordinarily the least bit interesting - or accomplished, talented, insightful, hip or funny. Or any other noteworthy thing. That's edge case stuff right there, and it's also unconsciously registered, and the unconscious discordance might understandably provoke irritation, anxiety, and general unease.
It's "gringo-who-can't-possibly-be-chattering-comfortably-in-Spanish." It's my palakwala samosa. That's it! Same dynamic!

When the visceral impression you provoke is extraordinarily at odds with who you actually are, every word or action jars disturbingly against expectations. Even if you don't say a word, and mind your own business, signals conflict. Extreme edge cases elicit surreal/comic results.

Surprising behavior breaks things (and the greater the surprise, the greater the breakage, so be careful about aiming for infinity). I actually wrote a posting five years ago about the problem with surprise, but I didn't tie it all together until today.

I had more Curse theories to write up, but I suppose I can stop now.

Continue to "Summing Up"

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