Sunday, October 25, 2009


I am not exactly Miss Manners, and neither are my parents. Some of my friends are blessed with even less social grace than myself, and some of my relatives are blessed with none at all.

All of these people, however, generally understand human speech. They might lack tact, blurt out whatever is on their minds, fail to understand subtle clues, but if you tell them to shut the fuck up - well, they might start screaming even louder, but at least they acknowledge it.

My aunt, unfortunately, has not reached this stage of development.

Any visit to her place goes the following way:

"Would you like something to eat?"
"No, thanks, I just ate."
"Would you like something to eat?"
"No, thanks."
"No, thanks, I am not hungry."
"Would you like something to eat?"
"I said no three times."
"Chicken or shrimp? I also have some cabbage pie?"
"No, thanks."

Yes, there are cultures where food is supposed to be offered and possibly refused several times, but even in Russian culture after four iterations it is supposed to be entirely clear whether or not the host really wants to offer the food and whether or not the guest really wants to eat. Clear to everyone except my aunt, that is. On numerous occasions she has gone up to 40 iterations, and would have gone to fifty had I not escaped. Worst of all, at her place I am bound by hospitality rules not to order her to shove the chicken up her anus.

The only time I failed to abide by the hospitality rules was once eight years ago when she was at my place with my father and uncle, helping me to assemble six bookcases I'd just bought. I have no idea why they were there, really: I needed no help, my aunt considered it beneath her feminine dignity to actually help with the shelves but came anyway, and both my father and my uncle considered it beneath their masculine dignity to read the instructions. As the result I was sitting on the floor assembling the shelves, the men were arguing about the most optimal way of doing so and occasionally trying to steal my hammer, and the aunt decided to help out by taking a trash bag and putting there all the objects whose purpose she did not know, plus all the clothes she did not like. After confiscating the trash bag and telling her to leave my stuff in peace for the third time I led her to the kitchen, ordered her to make tea, and told her that if she leaves the kitchen without my permission, or throws out as much as a used teabag, she would be immediately disemboweled. This did catch her attention, and she remained in the kitchen for the rest of the day and kept all her bowels.

This time I decided not to visit her place (I did see her, but not one-on-one), and she called me on the phone instead. Big mistake. In addition, this time she suddenly decided to give me some advice on beauty and femininity. The last time she has done so was when I was 15; even then I realized that you probably shouldn't heed any advice on femininity coming from a woman who wears a beard due to the fact that shaving is very unfeminine.

"It's too bad that you did not have time to come to my place," she says. "We could have gone to see my hairdresser."
"She would have advised you on a new hairstyle."
"I am quite pleased with the current one, thanks."
"You don't have to do anything, just discuss it with her, to be ready for when you do want change."
"I am not interested in any change in foreseeable future, but if I ever do, I'll go to my own hairdresser, thanks."
"I would like you to go to my hairdresser."
"Not gonna happen. I am not interested in seeing your hairdresser, now or ever." And neither is anyone else who has ever seen you, I leave unsaid.
"But you need change!" For a second there I wonder whether she has seen to many Obama speeches, then decide that he is not to blame.
"You do realize you are being rude, right? Unsolicited advice on other people's appearance is quite rude in general, and I have told you three times that I am not interested."
"I just want you to be beautiful!"
"Our esthetic tastes are very different, so I don't think I can benefit from this advice, or any other esthetic advice of yours."
"No they are not!"
"I think we should change the topic."
"You have reached the age when women should wear short hair."
"And I am still not interested, and not interested in discussing it with you, either. This topic is now closed."

She iterated about ten times on length, then switching to color and informing me that my dye has peroxide (it doesn't, but she felt the need to argue) and to the conditioner, informing me that I should definitely use the one that comes in green bottles, and completely ignoring my protestations that a) lots of conditioners come in green bottles, b) there might be a different selection of conditioners in Boston and in Helsinki.

As the conversation (most times she is content to preach while I put the receiver on the table and surf the net, but this time she demanded responses) progressed, I found my mind wandering to the scene from Kill Bill 1 where O-Ren is holding a yakuza meeting and making a rather forceful point about what she does and does not wish to be discussed. In the end, after about thirty iterations of her wanting me to cut my hair, to use the conditioner in green bottles whose brand will forever remain a mystery, and telling me how my hair reacts to the dyes that I do not use, the rather limited reserve of my patience ran out, and I told her that she should look in the mirror and realize that she can ill afford to give hairdressing advice.

Of well, at least I haven't used the words "frightful bird nest".

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