Time for another pearl of Persian wisdom and ancient culture, this time concerning the unmentionable parts of the male anatomy and silk handkerchiefs. Yes. According to us Iranians, when you are extra-nice to your superiors and laugh long and loud at their stupid repetitive jokes, you are rubbing their private parts* (the parts which are shaped like biggish grapes) with a silk handkerchief.
Actually, in the past ten years or so, most of my superiors have been females, thanks to the progress of women’s rights and anti-essentialists. But the principle of silk handkerchiefs applies just as well to female superiors as well: you show compassionate interest in their social lives, you compliment their clothes and hair (but not too obviously, right?), you display stunned interest at their genius in correcting your reports and their disparaging remarks on your work. And thus the wheels of your career, your job, and your daily life at the office, where you are spending 8 hours a day and thus the main part of your life, run just a little bit smoother.
So one reason I threw my hands up and fled to Halifax was that I had just become sick of the silk handkerchief thing which dominates almost any office bureaucracy. Foreign universities, I thought. Independence. Freedom from nervous annoying whimsical just plain stupid crazy bosses. Just books, books, articles and more books, who do not demand and talk non-stop, in a class full of peers whom I can silence by looking down my long Persian nose and speaking in my snooty British accent.
I had forgotten about the professors.
True, they are super super nice. Which actually becomes quite a problem, because they act so nice and so interested that you may forget that they are the power-mongers here, and you need that silk handkerchief spread out, albeit in a much more unobtrusive way, ready to use at any instant. Don’t make a horrified noise at me and speak of academic integrity! Sound scholarship! Good research! All that matters, of course, and it matters just as much how you interact with your professors, subtly preparing them to give you the things you need: a good grade (actually grades seem to be the least important thing here), meaningful feedback on your work (it is very annoying to spend hours and hours burning your eyes and brain out writing up an assignment, only to get a laconic “good work” scribbled in red at the bottom of your 4000 words), funding, promise of recommendations and supervisorship etc etc etc.
And I have spent too long with the silk handkerchiefs in my old job. I seem to have lost the touch. I feel irritated at the necessity to smile and boost myself and write polite explanatory e-mails. I don’t think I can keep it up any longer- I’m afraid that one day soon, the lipsticked smile will suddenly vanish from my face, and I will snap: “If you don’t like my work /don’t want to be my supervisor/don’t want to write a recommendation/ etc- fine. I don’t need you. Screw you.” And the whole world will fall apart.
Then I will open a small grocery shop close to my flat. And I will be free from silk handkerchiefs forever and ever.
*The actual word used in the original proverb is so so rude that I have never spoken it, as I fear my tongue will catch fire and go black if I do. Come to think of it, I have barely heard it uttered either. How do I know it then?? That is a real mystery. It was probably engraved on my Iranian brain when I was an embryo in my mother’s womb.