Whaddya mean “that’s not normal?!”

North Yorkshire, circa 1987.

A classroom full of nine- and ten-year-olds.

An assignment to write a story that involved food.

A girl (not the blogger!) standing up at her desk, pulling her knee socks back up before starting to read her story to the class.


“I remember walking down my street, and then the next thing I remember is sitting up in bed eating bacon and eggs. That’s when I knew that I must have been hit by a car. My mum came in -”

Teacher: “Hold on – I think I might have missed something here. How did you know you’d been hit by a car?”

Girl: “Because you always get bacon and eggs when you’ve been hit by a car!” (“DUH!” implied but not stated).

Teacher: “Have… have you been hit by a car before?”

Girl: “Just once. My Mum’s been hit two or three times, and my Dad at least two times. And you always get bacon and eggs after”.

(Everyone stares at her, including the flabbergasted teacher).

Girl: “Is… is that not normal?”


I think we’ve all been there at one time or another. A twist to a technique that you inherited from the person who taught you but that no-one else has ever seen before; a freaky thing one of your limbs or joints does (and has always done) that makes everyone else back off in horror; a word or phrase that your new colleagues interpret very differently from the friends you grew up with. For me the most striking example was when I was in my late teens and mentioned to some friends that I had to visit a card shop on the way home to buy my parents an anniversary card. I’d always done this – prompted by my parents, who’d also get a small box of chocolates or something out of the deal – and never questioned it, because that’s just What You Did. But my friends all thought it was really, really strange – and other groups of friends have concurred over the years (Mr E Man’s family don’t even send each other birthday cards, but that’s another story).

These things have different names in every office I've ever worked in. My favourites were "slippery Jimmies" and "polypockets".

I’ve found that moving to a new job, town and/or country every few years has been a great way to challenge my own little assumed normalities that are actually quite unique to me and my family, or to a particular company, university, town, country, or continent. And, because it’s Friday afternoon, the fire alarms are being tested with all the resulting noise and distraction that entails, and my brain won’t work after a long week of grant submissions and missed sleep, I’m hoping you’ll all entertain me by sharing your own examples in the comments!

About Cath@VWXYNot?

"one of the sillier science bloggers [...] I thought I should give a warning to the more staid members of the community." - Bob O'Hara, December 2010
This entry was posted in career, communication, education, family, food glorious food, freakishness, grant wrangling, personal, silliness. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Whaddya mean “that’s not normal?!”

  1. Alyssa says:

    Our family tells dirty jokes at the dinner table. We have surprised a number of guests with that behaviour.

    • Grant says:

      That’d divide my family. (My brother and I might approve, though.)

      Reminds me of a rather sweet cartoon I saw today in the paper. There’s a young kid and his mother looking at an octopus clinging to the side of an aquarium. The text below the cartoon reads “Not have the heart to correct them”, with the little kid saying “Look at all his testicles”.

      • Cath@VWXYNot? says:

        Heh. My family doesn’t do that often, although when we get together we do give each other a hard time in a way that others might think harsh, but that is actually a sign of (British) affection 🙂

  2. Those are some nice page protectors you’ve got there. Although “Slippery Jimmies” is a much, much better term.

  3. Oh yes – really useful plastic sleeves 🙂


  4. chezjake says:

    But in our family, ever since first hearing Flanders and Swann’s version of Greensleeves way back in the late ’50s, those would be referred to as “plastic fleeves.”

    Can’t find a recording, but here is a transcript of the piece from the album “At the Drop of a Hat”:

  5. Pika says:

    In this country, cooking youself and bringing leftovers to work for lunch and have a warm lunch is completely out of the normal. In PhD country, it was the 100% rule (noone ever 1) went out to lunch, 2) got sandwiches + chips for lunch, as everyone here does).

    Even after 5 years here, my coworkers still can not get used to me warming up my pasta/risotto/whatever I brought with me and keep wondering about it and how expensive this is (newsflash, my one portion of risotto (which I cooked in larger batch and froze the rest) is about 1/3 of the price of the overpriced brand sandwiches that you buy for lunch every day – but noone believes it! Not to mention it’s tastier and healthier.). 🙂

    • Nina says:

      ??? Pika, really??? Your colleagues are strange … It is plain common sense that reheated leftovers are cheaper and healthier than anything else, right?!?!

  6. Moving to a new country brings with it heaps of crazy misunderstandings. Like when I arrived in Postdoc City in the middle of winter and was asked about the weather I had left behind. I said it had been really hot and I’d worn thongs to the airport. That turned some heads in my new lab. Now people just nod and think I’m weird.

    • Grant says:

      Yes, I can see where that might lead to trouble.

      Critical question being if the thongs were on your feet or covering your genitals.

      But perhaps that explanation would only turn more heads? 🙂

  7. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    Page protectors? Plastic sleeves? How mundane!

    Pika, I find your lunch habits completely normal, and that’s been the case everywhere I’ve ever worked. I don’t always take leftovers for a hot lunch, but I often make my own sandwiches / salads, or bring in a tub of hummus, Ryvitas, and some avocados & tomatoes, like this week. It’s always great to be the person making colleagues jealous with the leftover pasta or something, though!

    PiT, good to see you back over here! Massimo’s post seems to have brought you out of hibernation 🙂

    Love the thongs story. For me it was the whole pants / fanny conundrum that used to trip me up, but I do much better now! I also have a couple of hilarious stories about misunderstandings made by colleagues who aren’t native English speakers, but they deserve their own post one of these days.

    • The whole fanny and fanny pack thing still makes me blush. Like the day one of my friends told me she had fallen over and bruised her fanny. I was so embarrassed I didn’t know what to say. Was imagining all kinds of scenarios, the most innocent of which was that she had been walking along a fence when she fell.

      And it wasn’t necessarily Massimo’s fault … I’m just less apathetic this week! I’ll be back to normal next week.

  8. Nina says:

    Ah, the fanny-dilemma. As a non native speaker, I can never remember which meaning it has in which country so I try to avoid the word altogether. But: a fanny pack = a bum bag. Not sure how that makes it better.

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