Friday, 28 June 2013

Categorise us

These things are givens: my blue-green eyes;  the brown curly hair that refuses to be tamed (I joke "it wears me"); that I am a musician; that I'm Mensa-level bright; that I like puzzles and solving problems but can't do crosswords; my need to create and craft; that I'm a damn good cook and love entertaining;  that I am a bookworm; that even though my father worked in a factory and my mother trained as a dressmaker, I am inexorably middle-class.

While some a physical attributes or accidents of history, many of the above are labels I stick on myself.  The human tendency to categorise people always amazes me.  As a species, we are awfully judgemental. We go about consigning our acquaintances to labelled boxes, e.g. "shelf stacker" or "nice but dim" or "arty" or, my favourite from a friend, "so common they'd make TOWIE look posh".   It can be funny watching the reactions when the labellee doesn't conform to the labeller's expectations - have you ever had someone protest to you, "But you're not like that!" when you do something that doesn't agree with their preconceptions? 

I've mentioned before that I hate to be labelled, hate the assumption that just because I like one thing, I will dislike another. In any given scenario, you can only possibly present part of yourself to the world.  The core "you" will always be present but it's highly unlikely that your closest loved ones will see the same version of you as your colleagues.  I am aware that pretty much everything people might know about me depends upon where and how we met, for example, at work most of my department do not know that I play RPGs on the weekends. I'm not ashamed of it but it's only ever come up in conversation once, at which point, I out geeked the guy who thought he was the resident geek. They know I sing in a choir but it's taken some of them years to reconcile my taste in classical music with going to rock concerts.  Wonder what they'd say if they knew the last band I listened to live played bluegrass and the one before that played skiffle?

On the flip side, if you knew me through role-playing or choir, it is unlikely my profession would have an impact on you.  At most, you'd know I'm an accountant in an engineering firm.  If pushed, I'd tell you about the business I look after now, possibly about the project I looked after for 5 years. There are days when I re-read some of the emails I've sent at work and think, "my God, I'm good at what I do" but, outside the recipients, only another accountant would get the impact of what I've written.  Maybe that's why many of my dearest girlfriends have a connection to my profession and the job I do.  When the "Ladies of A" get together, we trade war stories about segmental analysis, complain about revenue recognition, share the triumph that comes from finally being able to take the static figures from the management accounts as presented in Hyperion and drill all the way down into the ledgers to find the primary transactions.

If you were watching us from a nearby table at a restaurant, you probably wouldn't notice until after the second or third cocktail since the conversation is always interspersed with stories about husbands and children and football and holidays and houses and hobbies and homemaking.  Until that point, from the outside, we probably look like any other group of middle-aged "ladies who lunch".  After that point, when the alcohol  loosens the volume controls, you might notice the lack of conversation about hair and make-up while we dissect the technicalities of the accounts we manage (although we might make the occasional detour into shoes...).  Another case of appearances deceiving.  Not fitting in to neatly labelled boxes.

I am not a stereotype.  Don't try to make me one!

- Pam

(Incidentally, one of the funniest assumptions that has ever been made about me is when my Head of Project Controls and I went to check into a hotel in Glasgow and walked up to the reception desk together.  Having told the desk clerk that I'd booked two rooms, indicating my male colleague as I did so, the clerk promptly asked me if we'd like two keys to my room! J's face was a picture.  I hate to think what mine was like.)

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