Posted by: zhak39 | October 9, 2010

The Impossibility of Fluency

The furniture has been installed!  I have an office of my own.

Yesterday as I was moving files into my new office a professor in the next room came to see what was going on.

“This is your office now?  We are neighbors!”

I truly enjoy this woman.  She is highly accomplished, a leader in her field of research, thoughtful and compassionate with her students.  She is also fun and interesting to talk to and slips seamlessly from English to French to Arabic.  She gets excited about other people’s accomplishments and offers praise and support.  Her English is excellent and our conversations are founded on similar experiences and values.

“It is difficult to get respect in academia for a woman.  My mentor brought in more grant dollars than most of the male professors combined and yet she was so often overlooked.  I look up to her and will also make these contributions to science,” she told me one day.

“You are a woman in a field really dominated by men,” I told her.  “I admire that you are also very feminine.”

“Pffff.  I am not She-Man!”

What a great word.  We laugh a lot.

Yesterday she was very excited about my move.

“Now we are neighbors, I will ask you for sugar.”

I didn’t get that one and the student that was helping me move understood it less.  He is my age, the professor much younger, but we didn’t think this was a trend gap.

“I don’t understand.  What are you saying?” I asked her.

“Sugar, sugar.  You know, we are neighbors so when I need, I can ask you for sugar.”

Now I was getting it, and so was the strapping southern guy next to me.

“Oh, so if you run out of sugar in your sugar bowl, you can borrow some sugar,” I clarified.

“Well, yes.  Because we are neighbors.”

The student and I exchanged a look.

“Umm.  I get it.  And by the way, we are in the south so you might want to know something.  When you ask someone for sugar you are asking for a kiss.”

The student’s grin is wide.  You can be sure he’ll be watching out for the very first time the sugar barrel is empty.


  1. That was lost on this displaced New Yorker living in the midwest.

  2. Then you get no sugar, honey

  3. My loss, Zhak. My loss, for certain.

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