Tag Archive | manners

Human as a Second Language: “Definitely” means “never”

The other night I was out for dinner with my friends Critter and Varmint (Aspie-positive NT life forms) and we got to talking about the many ways humans have of wiggling out of commitments.

One of these ways is the use of the word “definitely,” which, after some extensive observation, I have concluded actually means “never.”

We should definitely ... never mind.

We should definitely … never mind.

And combined with any or all of the words “should,” “sometime,” “check it out,” and “try,” you can be sure that the get-together you’re discussing (or the hairdresser/book/movie/whatever that you’re recommending) is just not going to happen.

For example, if you’ve met someone in a social situation and get to that point in the exchange where you’re negotiating another get-together, and the person says “Yes, we should definitely try to get together for coffee sometime,” you can rest assured that coffee will not be had and that person will forever remain an acquaintance.

This can be puzzling and downright hurtful, and especially so for Aspies, who, to put it bluntly, live in a world of misunderstandings and frequent rejections. It can be tempting at this point to become angry at the other person, and to take such a blow-off personally — in other words, to condemn the other person and to assume this is a reflection on you personally. To explain why this is not actually a valid or useful response, I will borrow from the teachings of The Big Bang Theory and of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), of which I am a huge fan.

This definitely sucks, but I shall accept it as a social convention.

This definitely sucks, but I shall accept it as a social convention.

First of all, there is no hard-and-fast rule stating that the other person must get together with you simply because you want this to happen (that’s the CBT rational thought, there). NTs are not as direct as Aspies can be (sometimes this is a good thing and is known as “manners”) and will often find a softer way of saying, albeit obliquely, that for whatever reason, they’re not interested in or able to commit to getting together with you at this point.

Second, the whole “we should definitely get together sometime” thing is actually part of a social convention that a lot of NTs follow. This is something I’ve seen often on The Big Bang Theory: Sheldon (arguably an Aspie) is quite often stopped in his argumentative, insist-y tracks by being told that certain things (e.g., the giving of birthday presents, or attending dull faculty wine-and-cheese parties) are simply non-negotiable social conventions and he needs to suck it up and play nice.

In this instance, the use of the words “definitely,” “should,” etc. is the NT’s way of signalling that your social exchange is coming to an end and it’s time for you both to go find someone else to talk to, or change the subject.

The subject of what constitutes an acceptance is a bit more complicated (OK, a lot…) but briefly, for the sake of comparison here, I would say that the suggestion of a date, time, and place (“OK, how about next Thursday at The Wobbly Duck Cafe? Does 2:30 work for you?”) and the exchange of contact information are signs that the other person is interested in furthering your acquaintance. (Needless to say, you can really overthink this, as Sheldon infamously does on the episode called “The Friendship Algorithm.”)

So, your two lessons are: first, know when you’re being blown off. Your clues are the use of the word “definitely” and the presence of any or all of the words “should,” “sometime,” “check it out,” and “try.” This is your cue to stop asking and move on.

Second, know that encountering the dreaded “We should definitely try to get together sometime” is not something you should take personally or use as a cudgel to beat either yourself or the other person. Rather, you are engaging in a social convention in which another person is trying to let you down gently. Let them. And find someone else to have coffee with.

~A.G.

You can definitely over-think the whole friendship thing. Let's try not to do that.

You can definitely over-think the whole friendship thing. Let’s try not to do that.

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Sh*t People Say to People with Asperger’s

One of the challenges of having Asperger Syndrome is that most of us look so … normal. For the most part, it’s hard to pick us out of a crowd (at least initially): there’s no wheelchair, leg brace, or obvious physical clues to indicate that we are anything but Neurotypical, predictable, average — Just Like You.

Maybe this visual cue would help. (Can I outfit it with a Saturn V rocket engine, though??)

So it is probably confusing to the rest of you when we show a preference for talking about math, oceanography, a beloved rock band, or bus seat repair, or start repeating the dialogue from a Monty Python movie.

Or when we simply look at you blankly when you talk at us about your kids, home renovations, or the plot of whatever reality TV show you watched last night.

(They say Aspergians dwell on their own “special interests” to the point of boring their listeners to death, but I would argue that Neurotypicals do the same thing — meaning we’re not so very different after all!

But I digress.)

At any rate, because we look so “normal,” Neurotypicals often lash out at us, sometimes incredibly brutally, when their expectations aren’t met. I suspect it’s an evolutionary, “survival of the fittest” thing, related to the way that chickens will mob up and peck to death any member of their flock who shows a spot of blood on her feathers.

Uh oh, looks like Edna's limping a bit -- get her, girls!!

We also tend to be very naive, making us easy prey for just about anyone who pretends to be our friend in order to get something from us. (More on this in a future post.)

Humans pride themselves in thinking they’re above all that, but sometimes I’m not so sure.

As an Aspergian, I have had people say things to me over the course of my life that would be considered shameful (if not  grounds for a lawsuit) if they’d been said to someone with Down Syndrome or cerebral palsy.

So, with a nod to the popular “Sh*t Girls Say” and “Sh*t My Dad Says” (and a leap onto the bandwagon), I now give you…

Sh*t People Say to Aspergians

  • “Don’t be so stupid.”
  • “Grow up and act your age.”
  • “You’re so smart — you should know better than that.”
  • “Why do you have to make such a big deal of everything? What the hell is your problem anyway?”
  • “Why do you always have to be such a bitch?”
  • “Why are you so uptight?”
  • “You’re weird.”
  • “You’re off-putting and downright creepy.”
  • “We just don’t see you fitting onto our team. Best of luck in future endeavours.”
  • “You’re overqualified for the job, unfortunately. Best of luck in your job search.”
  • “I’ve told you this 500 times already. What are you, retarded?”
  • “You’re so damn smart — YOU figure it out.”
  • “Hey, I didn’t know you could draw! Can you just quickly make me a birthday card for my mum?”
  • “Oh, there you go, showing off again.”
  • “You’re such a good writer. We can’t pay you, of course, but would you mind rewriting our company website?”
  • “Oh, you’re an editor? Can I just get you to take a look at this letter I wrote to my boss?”
  • “We had a birthday party for X on the weekend but we didn’t invite you because we didn’t think you’d want to come.”
  • “You’re married/living with someone? Really? Can Asperger people even have sex or relationships??”
  • “You’re such a know-it-all. Is there anything you’re not an expert on?”
  • “So what? I forgot my wallet again. What’s the big deal? You’ve got a credit card — just pay for our dinner with that and I’ll pay next time. I promise.”
  • “Thanks for loaning me your car. I hit a post in the car-park, but I think your insurance should cover the damage.”
  • “You’re really smart — can you come over and fix my computer?”
  • “Of course I think you’re hot. Can I come in for a nightcap?”
  • “Just answer the question. I don’t have all day to listen to your crap.”
  • “Stop asking so many questions and do as you’re told.”
  • “You have Asperger’s? Really? Are you sure? You just don’t seem like an asshole to me.”

…and finally, my personal favourite, which is not so much a matter of what the person is saying as how they say it — that moment when you tell someone (even someone you’ve known for years) that you have Asperger Syndrome, and suddenly they start talking to you in that slow, concerned, Special Voice usually used on small children who are wandering alone at the supermarket.

"Now Andy, I'm going to use the Special Voice on you for just a moment. Isn't that nice?"

They might as well be asking you if you have your name sewn into the lining of your jacket or need help finding the toilets. (I think this is one of the reasons I find the “Lou and Andy” sketches on Little Britain so hysterically funny!)

Alas, there is no remedy for an outbreak of Special Voice other than to just walk away.

As for the other “Sh*t people say” to us, however, I wish I knew of a remedy for that (one that doesn’t involve a choke-hold or inviting the Neurotypical in question to insert something unwieldy in their descending colon).

(See? Even I know that’s rude.)

Maybe I’ll start carrying my copy of Emily Post’s book on etiquette with me, and the next time someone makes a personal remark to me, I’ll just invite them to have a look.

And then konk them over the head with it. 🙂

Four-and-a-half pounds of etiquette lessons.