Open Your Mouth and Remove All Doubt

Ingmar Bergman's thoroughly enjoyable 1975 movie version of Mozart's The Magic Flute is in Swedish and necessary takes liberties with the German libretto. Further liberties are taken with the English subtitles. In the first act, when the Three Ladies cut Papageno some slack and unlock his lying mouth, the subtitles have them singing this:

The strong are different than the weak, in that they think before they speak.

Quite true. Look, everyone has Microsoft moments when their brain experiences the blue screen/red ring of death and shuts down. The difference between people who avoid (on the petty scale) embarrassing themselves or (on the large scale) getting themselves into bad trouble is that sensible people shut up until their brain reboots. This is part of the sensibility informing my favorite advice to clients, which is: when in doubt or confusion or stress or trouble, shut up.

Amusing case in point: yesterday Katrina was at a book fair with the kids. A mother meets her, and asks which kids are hers. Katrina points out Abby, who is obviously Asian. Other Mother looks perplexed; you can see the Microsoft Blue Screen of Death reflected in her eyes. Is she Korean, she asks? Yes, says Katrina. Is your husband Asian, she inquires? No, says Katrina, thus ignoring my standing offer (diamond tennis bracelet if she answers that question "I don't know, it was dark"). Further confusion on expression of Other Mother, who then ignores my advice and keeps talking through the brain freeze — looking at my very white, very Northern-European-origin wife, she asks "are YOU Korean?"

Katrina was very polite to her and explained at this point that Abby was adopted. The brain rebooted. Katrina scrupulously avoided eye-rolling or laughter, displaying merely one of the traits that makes her a better person than I.

So: shutting up, it's not just for clients any more.

[Note that I am fully aware I routinely fail to follow my own advice.]

Last 5 posts by Ken White


  1. says

    “are YOU Korean?”

    If you were looking at my sis-in-law – half-Irish, half-Korean – you might think she looked _exotic_ but not especially _Korean_. Or you would think so if you've not traveled much.

    P'haps the lady simply has not traveled much.

    My Italian-Irish wife explains how she speaks passable Korean: her mother is Korean.

    Which is always good for significant looks of puzzlement. She never explains that technically the lady in question is her step-mother. I find this very amusing.

  2. says

    A couple of Minnesota White Bread (in appearance, anyway) friends have adopted four children from Korea, the youngest of whom is about to go off to college. I think it took them some years to stop getting irritated with questions, when the kids were younger, like, "When she starts to speak, will it be English or Korean?"

    'Course, that might be because the kids did, well, start to speak.

    I think a lot of this is just ignorance and stupidity, not cupiditry and poltroonery.

  3. says

    I don't know if I could stay married to a woman who did NOT take me up on such a standing offer…

    Heck, that would be tame for an answer.

    I like my women with some SNARK, damnit…