Sunday, July 24, 2005

Ignorance

I think everyone has those "light bulb" moments in life. Your eyes get big, you inhale sharply, and you think; "Oh wow...I can't believe I never realized that before."

I was thinking about a couple of those moments in my life last night. The first came when I started 7th grade. Back then, that meant a whole new school (Junior High) and a whole new pecking order. In my first week of school, I was feeling pretty lost and overwhelmed. It was a big, multi-storied building and I was still figuring out where to go. This was also my first time having different teachers for each subject rather than staying in the same classroom with the same teacher for everything, all day long.

They encouraged us to use the bathroom between classes, but if it wasn't possible to wait, you could ask for a hall pass. My first time needing to use the facilities, it happened to be in the middle of class (and no, I couldn't wait). I was given a pass and I set off in search of the girl's bathroom. I didn't realize that I had selected a time when the janitor was cleaning the rest rooms and he had propped open both doors so the signs that said "Girls" and "Boys" were not visible.

The choice seemed obvious. The bathroom with the bluish green colored tile must be the boys room, and the one with the pinkish orange colored tile must be the girls. Right? Makes sense?

Wrong.

I waltzed into the Boy's bathroom and froze. My eyes grew big, I inhaled sharply, and thought; "Oh wow! I never knew the boy's bathroom was DIFFERENT than the girls before! What the heck are those???" I studied the urinals for a moment and had a second thought occur to me. I was in the BOYS bathroom and someone could find me in there at any moment!! I fled in terror to the girls room and then returned to class, somewhat flushed and breathless.

No harm done. No one saw me. BIG lesson learned that day.

The other light bulb moment I was thinking about last night actually stemmed from a conversation I was having with an online friend a week or so ago. We were talking about the perils of foreign travel and I said, in passing; "...and isn't it weird that while we call Germany Germany, that isn't what the Germans call it?" There was a long pause, and the return IM said; "What do you mean? They don't call it Germany??? What the hell do they call it then???"

Ah ha! Another ignorant American. I don't mean ignorant in the negative context! If a person is never taught something, never exposed to something, never known something is true...they are ignorant of that knowledge. Plain and simple. I blame my parents and the schools I was taught in. How could you not teach a kid this very important tidbit?? Are we really that ethnocentric? It's no wonder Europeans have such a low opinion of us at times.

I tried to pinpoint the exact "ah ha" moment when I learned that the Germans, in fact, call their own country Deutschland. I am pretty sure I was in my later years of high school and I was doing a report on Nazi Germany. I was watching a tape of one of Hitler's speeches in the library. He was speaking in German, of course, and he frequently mentioned Deutschland. I nodded my head, turned to the AV librarian and said; "He must be talking about invading Holland." She stared at me blankly. "You know...Deutschland? The Dutch? Holland?" She started laughing.

I am NOT a stupid person! I have a relatively high IQ and got very good grades in school! But man, I felt dumb. Did you know the Japanese call their country "Nippon"? And that is only a close approximation of the sound of the name because the Japanese language uses a different alphabet. Greece is Ελλάδα. Don't get me started! Italy is L'Italia. OK, that one is pretty close. France is France. That one is easy. Spain is España. That one is pretty close too. OK, you get the idea.

Did you ever have a light bulb moment in your life? Where everyone else seemed to know about something and you found out the hard way? By saying something ignorant? Let me know.

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