Saturday, February 4, 2012

Total Identification With the Academic Subject, Part I: A Medievalist Above All Else

I know just about everybody in my department by now, but there are still a few people I'm meeting here and there. I met someone new this week, and he asked me, "¿Quién eres?" (Who are you?), to which I replied: "Soy medievalista" (I am a medievalist). "Ah," he replied. "No sabía que habíamos contratado a una medievalista. Pero ¿como te llamas?" It emerged that the normal-person reply to his question, as it would likewise have been in English, would have been to tell him my name and then to mention what I do professionally. I can't think of the novel (I almost fear it may have been one of the Bridget Jones books) in which a British character remarks that Americans will always ask about a person's profession before asking about his or her name; it was as if I was enacting the scene from the other side, answering that way without having been asked. My colleague refrained from saying, "Ah, entonces eres norteamericana," until after I had told him my surname, but surely he had deduced as much already from my peculiar response. Nevertheless, I'm pretty sure I want to chalk up this social gaffe not to the fact that I'm an American but rather to the fact that I'm as prone to Luftmenschlichkeit (my very favorite German* word, by the way) as the next academic and simply very, very engrossed in my intellectual life.

*Edited to add: It has been suggested to me that my favorite German word may not be a proper German word at all, and that this lexeme may be exclusive to Yiddish. (I've mentioned that my German requires improvement.) I'll have to investigate. Anybody out there know for sure?

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