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Sunday, September 03, 2006

No refuge for the socially inept

Zahava and I have a little unspoken arrangement between us.  If within 5 seconds of running into someone in a social setting I have not introduced her... it means I have forgotten the person's name.  When this occurs (as it does with shocking regularity), my lovely wife gamely steps into the breach with a cheery, "Hi, I'm Zahava... David's wife... I didn't catch your name."

In most cases the other party(ies) pretend not to notice my social lapse and offer up their name and some sort of identifying relationship (e.g. Bob's wife... an old school chum of David's... etc.).  On rare occasions someone decides not to play along and says something unhelpful like, "I didn't mention my name.  In fact I think David has forgotten it."   When this happens I simply pull out my gun and shoot them dead. 

OK, not really... but don't tell me that someone who would deliberately make you squirm around in your own social ineptitude doesn't deserve to be shot.

The nice part about this little face-saving trick that Zahava and I have perfected is that it translated flawlessly into Hebrew.  That I regularly forget people's names in two languages is neither here nor there.  The important point is that there is an easy way to extricate myself from the abyss... and it isn't language-dependent.

However, there are other social pitfalls in our new life that have not translated quite so well.

Take for example babies. 

Now, I think it is entirely unreasonable to expect a person to remember which friends and acquaintances have recently given birth... and what gender their spawn, er, little bundles of joy turned out to be. 

I'm sure the women out there are tilting their heads to the side right now the way my dog does when I put Stravinsky on the stereo.  I know... my previous statement about not remembering baby data might as well be in Chinese as far as my female readers are concerned, because everyone knows that there are special synapses and receptors in the female brain that are specially designed to latch onto vital baby statistics like gender, hours of labor, name, hours of labor, weight, hours of labor, length, hours of labor, APGAR score... oh, yes, and of course hours of labor.

But based on personal experience, I think men lack this ability to retain information about babies... and need to rely on cues from the parents (i.e. color of baby clothes, types of baby toys, color scheme of nursery) to safely begin using the proper pronouns.  That we won't be able to come up with the name is a given... so any time we can assign the correct gender to a kid we consider it a solid win.

In the old days I would run into friends with their new babies and sneak a quick peek at the signs before speaking:

  • Pink bag ( oh, c'mon... what the hell is a 'onesie'?)?  Check
  • Hair ribbon?  Check
  • Minnie mouse pacifier?   Check

Me:  "Oh what a sweet little girl!  How old is she now?  Is she sleeping through the night?"

See how I did that?  I identified the gender and followed it up with two questions containing the correct pronoun.  The parents are so happy to be able to talk about their baby that they miss the fact that I don't know the baby's name... and that I can't actually remember precisely when she was born.


The trouble arises when evil parents dress their babies in gender-neutral colors and give absolutely no outward hints on which the socially inept can hang a pronoun.  In such a case I always say something like, "What a beautiful baby!  You must be so proud.  Getting any sleep?"

I know... smoooooth.

But here in Israel men don't enjoy the same kind of cover for their mental lapses.  In a country where even tables and chairs are assigned genders, you can't get away with trying to finesse this point.  Trust me... I've tried. 

You can't even use the admittedly undesirable 'it' because in Hebrew there are masculine and feminine versions of 'it' ('zeh' or 'zot').

To add insult to injury, Israeli parents dress their kids exclusively in earth-tones.  And to make matters worse, so many modern Israeli names are gender-neutral that even the semi-miraculous event of actually remembering the kid's name when it's your turn to gush over the little dear won't save you!

I really think that there might be something to that old saying,  "Discretion is the better part of valor".   Just as I've learned the hard way not to mention a woman's pregnancy unless I can actually see a baby coming out of her body (Me: "Hi, long time no see... when are you due?" Her [shooting daggers out of her eyes]: "Our youngest is starting 2nd grade"), I think my new policy about referring to a child who lacks obvious gender cues is to stand perfectly still and say nothing in hopes that the moment will simply pass.

Lesson learned: There really is no refuge but silence for the socially inept.


Posted by David Bogner on September 3, 2006 | Permalink


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I can't tell you how much that exact problem happens to me... at least we're socially inept together! Shall we start a club?


Posted by: matlabfreak | Sep 3, 2006 11:16:03 AM

Hey, babe! Shavuah tov!

You should try hanging out at the pediatrician's during regularly scheduled hours -- or at the park in the middle of the day! 'Cause then you would know that no one even flinches when someone begins a conversation with "Ben o bat?" (son or daughter?). It may in part be that due to a cultural tradition to hold off cutting boys' hair until the age of three, but it seems almost expected that folks don't know....

Even though Yonah is ALL boy, and sports obviously buzzed hair, several men AND women have approached me with "ben o bat?!" and after the obligatory, "ben cama hu?" (how old is he?) and "aych korim lo?" (what is he called?) the du riguer gushing can begin!

Posted by: zahava | Sep 3, 2006 11:21:30 AM

To clarify, BTW, to Trep's loyal readers, he is ALWAYS the one to make non-regular hours trips to the doctors. It is a rare, rare thing when I am the one in the emergency room alone with a child. In fact, in 12.5 years, I have done so only 2x. It's just that during the "off hours" people are usually too stressed to be all that social....

Posted by: zahava | Sep 3, 2006 11:44:16 AM

I have solved this problem by directly addressing the child - the word "Hi" has become accepted slang here in Israel, and "Motek" (sweetie) is also used to address both men and women. So I say

"Hi Motek!" directly to the child while trying to elicit a smile or simply stroking/patting them. An alternative is "Mah Nishma Motek!" which is also relatively gender neutral.

You can also turn to the parents and say "Eizeh motek!"
("what a sweetie"). Usually people accept that slangy locution, even for a girl.

Being an American helps - although I'm rather fluent, it's not the only gender-agreement mistake I make.

You can do the same thing with the slangy Israeli use of "Mami" (shortened from Mameleh?) which is used as an endearment to address/refer to anyone.
"Hi Mami"
"Eizah Mamileh" etc.

You can then follow up with a semi-rhetorical gender neutral sentences like:

"Ze kfar/kim'at shana, lo?"
"Hazman ratz"
"Hem gedelim kol-kach maher!"

Then segue into a baby-related topic like day care arrangements in their community.

Posted by: Ben-David | Sep 3, 2006 12:09:22 PM

Am still laughing!!!!

My girlfriend just had a baby last friday morning. at 8:21 am...after 6 hours and 15 minutes of labor. Baby was 4.3kg and 54 cm (do the conversion yourself, you have the chart!). So, you are absolutely right. Why do I remember the stats?? I don't need them for any purpose that I can think of...

In norway, one has 6 months to come up with a name for their child... this blows my mind. I have met people who have used the full 6 months. I even knew one couple who called their little boy one name for 4 months and then changed their minds and switched to something else... I don't know what the tradition is there, but in my neck of the woods, you don't go home from the hospital with a nameless baby...

Posted by: nrg | Sep 3, 2006 1:26:23 PM

LOL... It IS sad, though, when people mistake our baby for a boy - when she's dressed in all pink, flowery stuff. I'm not surprised or insulted when they don't get it when she's wearing yellow or whatever; and it's a bit strange that people assume she's a boy because her carriage is blue; but sometimes, it's like "Whaaa? You're kidding me, right?"

Posted by: Ezzie | Sep 3, 2006 1:41:52 PM

And here I thought I had the monopoly on gaffes like the Name-Forgetty Thing.

People will forgive almost anything when it comes to babies, as long as you act interested...unless they hear you as you walk away, saying, "Yeef - that kid looks like a dog's breakfast!"

Posted by: Elisson | Sep 3, 2006 2:53:53 PM

Hahaha, My husband and I have the exact same code!

Posted by: cruisin-mom | Sep 3, 2006 6:31:29 PM

David... always smooth, that's you!
Nrg - - no name for 6 months???!!! that's crazy! By the way, you mentioned all facts on the new baby, but no sex or name??!!!!

Posted by: val | Sep 3, 2006 7:19:51 PM

A friend of the family, a few years ago, had his first child, a little girl. I had heard them discussing several names as the delivery drew closer, so when we saw them again, several WEEKS after the baby was born, I greeted the new father and asked "So what is her name?"

He turned, baby still cradled proudly in his arms, and called across the room to his wife, "Honey, what name did you pick? Is she Leah or Miriam?"

He was not kidding. "She's MIRIAM," his wife called back from her circle of girlfriends, not at all startled by the question.

It must be gender-linked, at some deep brain-chemisty level.

Posted by: Balabusta in Blue Jeans | Sep 3, 2006 7:23:10 PM

Long ago I stopped trying to remember all of the non-essential info, such as the how big and how long. Call me what you will, but it is just not important to me.

Really, as long as mother and child are healthy.

As for forgetting names, well I just come out and admit that I failed my social graces course.

About every third time someone decides to take me seriously and wants to know what the course involved and where I took it.

Posted by: Jack | Sep 3, 2006 8:39:58 PM

And people say Yiddish has no place in Israel ... here is where I say they are wrong ...

Forget 'zeh' and 'zot' ... and I could bash my head against the wall when it comes to gender in relation the numbers ... 'cause it's all reversed-like, and confusing ...

When you see a baby whose name you can't recall or whose gender you can't discern, simply break out with a "Shalom Bubele," pinch their cheek, and you're sure to be off, scott free.

Posted by: erica | Sep 3, 2006 9:59:28 PM

I know... my previous statement about not remembering baby data might as well be in Chinese as far as my female readers are concerned, because everyone knows that there are special synapses and receptors in the female brain that are specially designed to latch onto vital baby statistics like gender, hours of labor, name, hours of labor, weight, hours of labor, length, hours of labor, APGAR score... oh, yes, and of course hours of labor.

Not true. I have the same social ineptitude as you do, and I'm a woman. Does this mean I have a man's brain?

Posted by: Liorah | Sep 3, 2006 11:08:17 PM

LOL! I'm surprised how obsessed people here about gender-specific colors. Yikes. I hate pink, so I'm guessing if I have girls, I'll be hearing a lot of "gender-neutral" remarks! LOL, that was pretty funny, though. Personally I'm pretty good at remembering gender/name, but the other stuff? Couldn't care less about it. I mean, come on, what difference does it make how much the baby weighs as long as it's within a healthy range?

Posted by: Irina | Sep 4, 2006 3:13:08 AM

Until you've asked your neighbor, "When is your baby is due?" and she answers, "He was born two weeks ago," you can't say you've committed a really serious faux pas.

But I can!

Posted by: Bob | Sep 4, 2006 8:22:17 AM

Could this be why Zahava never got back to me re: Akiva's pidyon Haben? :) Seriously, we'd still love to see you (if you can make it) and its tomorrow (Tuesday) at 6 pm, in Jerusalem.

Posted by: Noa | Sep 4, 2006 3:32:13 PM

First of all I apologize for been so tardy with responses to your comments. The combination of back-to-school stuff and few coffee breaks at work has seriously cramped my style.

Matlabfreak... Sure, we can call ourselves... um, oh damn I forget the name. :-)

Zahava... "ben o bat?" just isn't my style.

Ben-David... "Hi Motek" might come in handy as a stalling tactic... y'know, while searching for other clues to the gender. But it won't buy you more than a few extra seconds since you are addressing the kid and not the parent(s). Once you can get the parent(s) talking you're in the clear... but I don't see 'Hi Motek' doing that (unless the mom is a total hottie, in which case she might think you're talking to her).

nrg... Is it true that the reason 'thorson' is one of the most common Norse surnames is because once -upon-a-time Norwegian kids of questionable paternity were attributed to the god thor? Just curious.

Ezzie... You have to cut us social idiots a little extra slack, OK?

Elisson... "Yeef - that kid looks like a dog's breakfast!" ROFLMAO!

Cruisin' Mom... Smart man, your husband. :-)

Val... That's me... smoove.

Balabusta in Blue Jeans... Now that's laid back! :-)

Jack... if you are having trouble remembering that particular combination of info, perhaps it's time you lost a little weight so you could check for yourself. ;-)

Erica... As I said to Ben-David, that will only buy me a couple of extra seconds since it doesn't engage/distract the parents. :-)

Liorah... Either that or you're just naturally gifted. :-)

Irina... Once again you break the mold. :-)

Bob... Well done. Strong work.

Noa... I didn't hear a word so I'll pass it along. Did I mention we are the friends from hell?

Posted by: treppenwitz | Sep 4, 2006 4:48:55 PM

I usually have a great memory when it comes to these things.

My son is always mistaken for a girl these days because of his ponytail... obviously, you can't take offense if your ponytailed son is mistaken for a girl (duh).

Re: names. I learned my lesson with my firstborn. Don't walk out of the hospital without a name. It took a year plus to fix my son's birth certificate.

Posted by: Shevy | Sep 4, 2006 6:03:41 PM

"ben o bat?" can't be offensive....sheesh, when I walk the dog I get "kelev o kelba?" from everyone.....because this IS a gendered language, I think its almost instinctive for folks to check on the gender. BTW, while I can remember if its ben o bat, I can never remember Baby's name, birthday or any other important fact Mom relates, so don't feel bad....

Posted by: aliyah06 | Sep 4, 2006 7:55:16 PM

Val, it was a girl...and.... NO NAME. She's got 5 1/2 months... don't rush her...she's down to 3 alternatives...

I have to look into the surname question. It sounds perfectly plausible, but isn't anything I've heard before. Will check though!

Posted by: nrg | Sep 4, 2006 11:15:34 PM

GULP! You didn't hear a word because YOUR WIFE IS THE BLACK HOLE OF MESSAGES! Ooooooops!

Honestly, folks, those of you wishing to make dates with the Bogners need to either 1) clear it with David who will insist that I inscribe it in my yoman (calendar) and will daily remind me to check the yoman until the date arrives, or 2) ask me if I have a pen, have written down the message, make me read it back to you to be sure I have it down correctly, and then call David and make him noodge me until the date arrives.

There. My dirty-little-not-so-secret-secret is out! I feel much better!

David is the date and time keeper. He is the one who will stress about being on time (kind of silly, here, but THAT has made him infinitely more patient with moi!). Me?! A much more, shall we say, fluid relationship with time?!

Posted by: zahava | Sep 4, 2006 11:18:35 PM

Overall, David, I offer my congratulations. My inability to recall names is a slight handicap in my profession -- school teacher. "Hi," parents will greet me in the 2nd month. "Er -- Hi, yourself!," approximates my suave rejoinder.

In addition, I not only have trouble remembering genders and ages of babies, I sometimes have trouble even recalling *how* they were born, as well.

"So -- how'd you get that -- child?"

The missus not only refuses to rescue me, she gleefully watches with eyes agleaming.

Posted by: Wrymouth | Sep 5, 2006 2:11:52 AM

LOLOLOL, I have been laughing since reading your post. I also have the worst time at parties & family reunions because I never remember anyone's name. Having a hearing loss compounds the problem - because often I miss the person's names during introductions, so even after being introduced I have no clue what anyone is called.

But to me all babies look the same, male or female, and I'm unafraid to say so, hours of labour be damned!! If it's cute and healthy and I pinch it on the cheek, the parents should be happy, so there. After all - it's not likely I'll recognize their names or genders either.

p.s. - I replied to your email the other day, many thanks ^_^

Posted by: Chantyshira | Sep 5, 2006 3:12:05 AM

yeah, thats what i hate aout ivrit...

Posted by: Tonny | Sep 5, 2006 6:30:35 AM


How do you pronounce that? Is there an emphasis on the beginning, like 'Yo Man' calendar or is more like yeoman.

Inquiring minds want to know.

Posted by: Jack | Sep 5, 2006 9:17:59 AM

Emphasis is on the second syllable. "Man" pronounced as though with a Jamaican accent (maan). The "O" in yo is long as in the word bow (as in the baby's hair bow indicates a girl), but a teensy bit clipped.

Sort of a yo'ma'an sort of a thing...

It is decidedly NOT pronounced as one would pronounce the word for a petty naval officer assigned clerical duties (yeoman).

Posted by: zahava | Sep 5, 2006 11:41:41 AM

Hilarious, I tend to use the word baby as in 'what an adorable baby', gender neutral and always works.
Great post.

Posted by: Jacky | Sep 5, 2006 12:28:19 PM

Ha! When I discuss family matters with male co-workers, they'll usually ask, "How's the family?" I say, "Great! How's yours?" We know there's at least one kid of undetermined age and gender in our respective families -- but do these pesky details really matter? Discussions with female co-workers who are mothers is far more complicated. One might ask, "How's your son? He's almost four, right?" My response goes something like, "Oh, great! Yes, he's almost four. And what about ... oops, I'm being paged!"

Posted by: Yaron | Sep 5, 2006 3:52:19 PM

Hi Zahava,

Thanks for the info. BTW, every time I hear Yeoman I think of Star Trek.

In almost every episode the yeoman was the "sacrifice." It was always Yeoman Stevens or something like this who would be the first person killed by whatever enemy they fought.

Posted by: Jack | Sep 5, 2006 4:28:05 PM

LOL! So true! I am pretty good with names, but telling the difference between a baby girl and a baby boy and a woman who is pregnant and one who is not can get awful tricky....I usually just smile like an idiot until they take pity on me and hand me a clue...

Posted by: mcaryeh | Sep 6, 2006 12:41:01 PM

I like your "plan"! Hubby never introduces me, but it's usually not because he can't remember the person's name, it's because he assumes I already know everyone.

I'm going to take Zahava's cue and just step up from now on!

(oh, and I never remember baby stuff. Always the name, but never anything else, including when the baby was born.)

Posted by: projgen | Sep 7, 2006 4:12:33 AM

Hungarian is great in this respect. No genders whatsoever not even a he or she pronoun.

When I was in Israel it was totally ok to be straightforward, like sorry, I forgot your name was ok to say. Must add that it was 6 years ago and I was in my early twenties meeting mostly (but not exclusively) people from this age group.

My general impression was that people were totally laid back about a lot of the politeness stuff especially compared to Britain (where I live now).

Posted by: Hettie | Sep 8, 2006 10:13:25 PM

Don't feel bad about not getting the baby-gender clue. Folks often confuse our six month old daughter for a boy, even when she is wearing a dress!

Fortunately, our primary language is gender neutral, so I can avoid this problem in return.

As for statistics, I maintain a separate blog just for our daughter, where we keep track of things like that - both to keep our relatives informed, and so I have a place to go look it up!

Posted by: Andy | Sep 9, 2006 11:03:26 PM

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