Friday, November 05, 2010

A league of their own

This evening Andrew and I went to a "mingle and mentor" session-conference-convention thing that the Marriott school hosted. In years past it was specifically for MBA students but this year they also encouraged the MPA students to attend. It was so fancy and so not-us.

We had been warned that the MPA and MBA students at the Marriott School were a bit like the Sharks and the Jets--today I got my first taste of that. We didn't seem to fit in well at all.

The first hour we were supposed to eat a light dinner while networking with all these bigwigs on the NAC (that's the National Advisory Council). I'll admit that meeting some of them was cool but since we aren't looking into the private sector we didn't find many who could give us much guidance. The food was also a bit weird. They were serving rice in little take-out boxes and you could choose chicken or beef to go on top--only to discover that they were giving out chopsticks and only chopsticks. This worked fine for me. It did not work out too well for Andrew.

Then they had these little cracker spoons with spiced cabbage and meat resting inside. It took a while to figure out that you were supposed to eat the spoon. We later learned that they also had Mexican food and Italian food and a few other not-Chinese options.

The beverage was cucumber water. That was kind of weird. Poor Andrew hates cucumbers.

So there we were, trying to look all suave but failing miserably. My cracker spoon broke when I bit it and the stuff on top fell all over the table, me, and the floor. Andrew spilled, too. And then he gracefully and nonchalantly slipped over to the drinking fountain to empty the contents of his cup and refill it with plain tap water. I wonder if anyone noticed.

We also both failed miserably at making small talk with the NAC members.

I later took a class on etiquette for business parties that discussed how to properly attend and throw a party. It was rather intimidating. Andrew went to a class on international business but the content seemed to favour the private sector and when he raised his hand to ask the panel if they had any advice for someone going into the public sector the room fell silent.

We were a little out of our element.

I guess that's why they have these functions, though, so that when they send us out into the real world we don't make fools of ourselves. I'm not sure this is the real-world that we're looking for, though. Our real-world dream involves comfort, yes, and a healthy income, but it also involves living in third-world countries and getting our hands dirty to help someone else live more comfortably.

Oh, and I almost forgot to say what I'm thankful for today. I'm thankful for the comfortable life I've known simply because I was born into it. I'm grateful I got to go to school, that I have always been paid at least a decent minimum wage, that clean water comes out of my tap, that I have a cozy bed to sleep in, a heater to warm me, a door that locks, shoes on my feet, food in my stomach.

Perhaps I'm a bleeding-heart but all the talk this evening of formalities and entertaining and etiquette seemed so frivolous and pointless. I know that graciousness and beauty are meant to have a place in our lives but sometimes I think we go overboard. That is all.

Tonight was discouraging.


  1. Always carry a plastic fork for culinary emergencies. (Plastic goes over so well at elegant dinner parties, don't you know.)

  2. I love chop sticks but I know what you mean, they can be a pain for some people. As for cucumber water...gross!!!! I mean cucumbers are great but when I eat I want plain water, no soda, no juice, and no vegetable juice. I would have been with Andrew switching my water out. As uncomfortable as these situations are I think they are still good practice. If you want to do public aid work you have to schmooze people to get the people, most of whom like fancy parties with edible little spoons. Shoot even the NGO's that work mainly with government money have to schmooze politicians and most politicians, even democrats, enjoy little parties thrown on tax payer dollars that would be better spent elsewhere. Can you tell this bothers me, and yet it is all part of the game!

  3. I like what Crys said. It's good to know about it, but I'm with you on the fact that it's really, really stupid to have to endure it.

    and I like cucumber water. it's actually one of my favorite drinks. I'm just sayin'.

  4. Oh Nancy! I had to laugh at this post. Some parts were so funny because I can just picture you guys (this genuine couple) surrounded by a bunch of schmoozers (and I am SO glad you didn't fit in). It must be like being in this world but not of it... I'm probably not explaining myself well at all, but this was such a touching post. You're a beautiful person, I'm sure you'll fit in right where you're supposed to ;)