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October 31, 2014 / 7 Heshvan, 5775
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Could You Repeat The Question?


Schmutter-011813

You know what I noticed since I started writing this column? That people don’t write in to ask questions so much as they write in to complain.

I’m not complaining. I don’t mean to knock these other question-and-answer columns, but I’ve never once heard anyone say, “My life was going down the tubes, but then I wrote in to the newspaper, and now everything’s better!”

Why is that?

Probably because people like to complain. They never tell you when things are better. You have to ask.

“How about that thing that you spent hours talking my ear off about last time? Is that still a problem?”

“What? Oh. No. But listen to what the problem is this time.”

But I don’t care. Complaints are great for business, so long as you put them in the form of a question.

Our first one today comes from someone in Brookline, MA, who is surprised to find that she’s having a hand in planning her friend’s wedding:

Dear Mordechai,

I just got an invitation to a wedding, and they want to know if I want, quote, “chicken or vegetarian.” What on earth is “vegetarian”? As far as I know, that’s not a food. That’s a lifestyle choice. What is the food?

Undecided, Brookline, MA

Dear Undecided,

Nobody knows. Grammatically, the choice doesn’t make sense. Is it asking if you want to eat chicken or vegetarian? I’m not going to eat a vegetarian. They’re too gamey. Is it asking if I AM a vegetarian? Or what? A chicken? Yes, I’m a chicken. I have nothing against vegetables, but I always pick chicken, because I’m afraid of what they’re going to try to pass as vegetables.

No, “vegetarian” is not a food. But nor are the baalei simcha descriptive about what they’re actually putting into the chicken. So they’re not really giving you a menu choice here. If you’re a chicken person, you don’t care what they’re putting on the chicken. It’s got to be better than whatever “vegetarian” is. And if you’re a vegetarian, you don’t care what the vegetarian option is, as long as it’s not chicken. The card isn’t asking what you want, it’s asking what you don’t want.

I got an invitation like that for a wedding I recently went to: “Chicken or vegetarian?” And I was wondering about it. “Vegetarian” means “vegetables,” right? But aren’t there going to be vegetables on the chicken plate as well? So what’s “vegetarian”?

So my guess was that the choices were: A. a plate that, in addition to vegetables, has chicken, or B. a plate that has a big gaping hole where the chicken would otherwise be. Like it fell off the plate on the way to your table, and the hosts want to know if they can just give the rest of the plate to you. Or do they have to scrape the chicken off the floor and put it back on the plate?

But it turned out that the vegetarian option was some kind of tofu dish. Which I’m not sure is a vegetable either. I don’t know why we keep punishing vegetarians by giving them tofu. Haven’t they suffered enough?

But apparently, they eat it. Basically, vegetarians got together at some point and decided that they’re going to eat something that is as unappealing to us as our food is to them. They serve tofu to weed out the real vegetarians from the people who just want to eat more salad, or the chickens like me who are curious as to what the reply card means by “vegetarian.”

I do eat soy. I put soy sauce on my sushi, and it’s delicious. Soy is supposed to be a bean, like cholent beans. I don’t know what they do to the soy that makes it look and feel like a magic eraser sponge, and I don’t want to know.

Dear Mordechai,

How come I have to ask my kids again and again to do something, and they don’t listen? It’s like talking to the walls. In fact, I feel like if I say it one more time, the walls will just get up and do it themselves, just to get me to stop.

Ignored, Flatbush, NY

Dear Ignored,

A lot of experts say that this is because kids want a feeling of control. If they don’t get to decide what to do, they feel helpless. So experts say that you should present them with options that are acceptable to you. For example, you can ask them, “chicken or vegetarian?”

But you actually know the answer to your question: Kids like repetition. They find it soothing. That’s why you have to read them the same bedtime story every night, as if one day the characters will decide to do something they didn’t do the first 500 times. And that’s why your kids keep asking you to throw them in the air again and again even though your arms are clearly falling off. And that’s why you have to play the same songs over and over in the car until you want to jump out the driver’s side door. Kids like repetition. (I said that again, for the kids.)

And this is also why, when I get my kids a new DVD, they say they’d rather watch the old one again. There’s nothing they’d rather get for Chanukah than another copy of the same DVD they already have.

Kids have to know what’s coming. It gives them the illusion of control, to be able to predict what’s going to happen next. You have to realize that in general, kids can’t predict anything, because they pretty much just got here. That’s why whenever you’re driving on the highway, they’re always totally shocked when they see cows. Everything in the world is a surprise to them.

And that’s why when you tell them to do something, you have to say it more than once. It soothes them. They’re always like, “What’s Mommy going to tell me to do next? Get in pajamas? What an unprecedented turn of events! She never tells me to get in pajamas after supper on a school night!” That frightens them. But when you ask them to do something and they don’t listen, they know that the very next words out of your mouth are going to be exactly the same words you just said. That’s how they predict the future.

The typical parent question is, “How many times do I have to tell you?”

The answer that your kid doesn’t say is, “As many times as you’re willing to. The more the better.”

“How many times do I have to tell you not to color on the walls? Now go get some tofu and clean it off.”

Of course, some parents try to beat this system. They say, “This is the last time I’m going to tell you.” But the kids always call their bluff. They think, “I bet if I still don’t do it, you’re going to tell me again.”

So their goal is not to do what you say until right before there’s a punishment. And they can always see the punishment coming, because you precede it with, “1…2…3…”

That’s predictability.

Have a complaint for “You’re Asking Me?” You might have to repeat yourself.

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