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Setbacks in U.S./Taiwan Diplomacy

by space at 12:58 PM on February 27, 2002

I work in an academic library. That, by the way, is an excellent line if you need a way to introduce yourself to hot girls. They love to hear about Interlibrary Loan and Reserve Desk policies. You have to be careful though, eventually they'll expect you to delete their fines. Don't let them compromise your integrity. You're a librarian; you have standards of evilness and surliness to uphold.

Anyway, there are a lot of international students there. Last week, I was helping a Taiwanese gentleman search the catalogue for a book he needed. I found the item, wrote the call number on a slip of paper and handed it to him. He said "thank you," and started to bow.

That's not unusual. A lot of the international students bow when they say thank you, though sometimes you can tell they're trying not to. Sometimes I bow back. I don't mean to. It's involuntary, like the way you tend to automatically shake hands when someone extends theirs to you. This was one of those times, and I inclined my head a bit.

The thing was, this guy kept bowing. He was really going for it, bending from the waist, leaning way over. I was looking at the top of his head. So I kept bowing too, going deeper, starting to feel ridiculous. Why are you bowing? Stop! It got worse a nanosecond later when I realized something.

He wasn't bowing, he was reaching for his briefcase, which was sitting on the floor.

As he started to straighten up, I started to turn beat red. What was I doing? I was obviously bowing to a man who was not. How could I avoid a rather serious transgression of etiquette, not to mention an international incident? Fortunately, I am nothing if not brilliant (and handsome and witty and dangerous and whatnot), and I came up with an ingenious way out of this potentially embarrassing situation.

I dropped my pen.

See! I wasn't bowing either, I was just bending over to pick up this pen! Never mind that I hadn't dropped it yet. I could, um, feel myself about to drop it. I was anticipating. Yes, that's right.

Oh, go away.

I looked around as he left, and no one seemed to have noticed. No one would have ever been any the wiser if I didn't feel the need to announce my faux pas on a website read by hundreds.

comments (6)

last year, when it started getting bitter cold for the first time, a few tiny field mice snuck into my house. my cat was the first to know. she camped in the kitchen, always alert. i would hear them but never see them. i don't like mouse traps or poisons. killing something for simply trying to subsist is too political for me. we put cheese on devices that automatically crush their skulls when they try to eat it, and we have the audacity to call them pests. i harmlessly caught one of them though. i didn't know what to do with it. if i put you outside, you would just find your way back inside, i thought. so i kept it. i dumped out a laundry hamper and put it inside with some cheese, water, and newspaper to nest in. it was scared of me. whenever i would look in, it would dart under some paper. it got used to me eventually and would let me watch it. a few days later i noticed it wasn't as active or responsive as before. it would barely move. i touched it with my finger. i think it was a baby mouse; i think it was sick or lonely. i scooped it out of the hamper and rested next to it on the floor. i dipped my finger in milk and held the droplet near its mouth, and it took some. i felt its tiny incisors on my fingertip. then i picked it up and set it on my stomach. it nestled in the convolutions of my shirt, warm and secure, and i think it fell asleep. i did too. when i woke up, it was still there. this is the same animal that i couldn't see for weeks because it was terrified of people. i didn't want to make a habit out of sleeping with rodents though, so i returned it to the hamper for the night. it was dead in the morning.

i was reminded of all this because it's getting bitter cold again, and today i saw my cat camping in the kitchen, alert.

by - Bobby at February 27, 2002 1:02 PM

At least you didn't curtsy. Although that would be cute. If I check out a book, will you curtsy?

I'm tired.

by melly at February 27, 2002 10:48 PM

I'll curtsy. But I don't work in an academic library. Though if you need some web design, come my way - "service with a curtsy" is our motto.

by snaggle at February 27, 2002 10:54 PM

confusing stuff there, the whole bowing issue. i usually only drop a pen when i'm trying to look up -- i mean, because i'm clumsy. yeah, that's it.

by kd at February 28, 2002 12:34 AM

Excellent rule of thumb:

people think that only Japanese bow, but of course it's not true. In almost all cases, howver, the Chinese "bow" is little more than a lowering of the head. It's so easy to offend people, and I've seen it happen, "I'm not Japanese, you genius."

by westernexposure at February 28, 2002 2:08 AM

having flown from tokyo to seoul once, i managed to deeply offend a korean man who i'd bumped into by excusing myself in japanese. "you're in korea," he said, in english. he didn't bow.

and a friend of mine had a grandfather who would sometimes place mice he had caught live into the empty bathtub. his cat would sit on the edge of the tub, watching for the longest time as the mouse ran in circles. watching and watching.

by miguel at February 28, 2002 8:38 AM

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