Month: August 2015

American Catholics are …

Now this is kinda fun.  Here is a Huffington Post article with the 25 metropolitan areas with the greatest proportions of Catholics.  To make very blanket regional judgments, American Catholics are:

  • Everyone (New York – #2)
  • Where I live (Chicago – #4)
  • Smog-breathers (Los Angeles – #6)
  • Bad drivers (Miami – #7)
  • Love a good time (Las Vegas – #8)
  • Live in chilly humidity (San Francisco – #11)
  • … and dry heat (Phoenix – #12)
  • Hypocritical, lying scumbags (Washington, D.C. – #20)
  • Coffee-lovers (have you met me?) (Seattle – #24)
  • Hipsters (Portland – #25)

And there’s more on the list, obviously.  Take a minute and click through at least for the pictures – they look great!

I forgot my birthday

Well, technically I haven’t forgotten it yet this year, but most years I do indeed forget my birthday.

If a robot sings Happy Birthday on Mars and there's no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?

If a robot sings Happy Birthday on Mars and there’s no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?


For people that don’t forget their birthdays and want to celebrate, there is apparently a group of killjoys roaming the earth that would ban self-hosted or self-organized birthday merrymaking:

“But modern Western culture is predominated by a belief that the individual is owed recognition, accolades, respect, honor and gifts for reaching certain life milestones and if friends and family won’t do it, then they feel justified in taking matters into their own hands to make sure they are sufficiently and deservedly honored.  Humility is a dying character trait.”

Or … people like excuses to party and a birthday provides the perfect excuse.  Using one’s own birthday as an excuse to party is not inherently honoring oneself, because that’s not how birthday parties work anymore.  Birthdays are fantastic excuses to drop everything and party – just by virtue of the fact that there are 365 possible days a year for people to have birthdays and only around 10 or so of those days are official holidays, there’s a good chance that any given person’s birthday falls between established holidays.  It’s a nice deviation in the routine and a break from reality.  Similar to how a beloved patron saint’s feast day works in certain cultures.

Yes, etiquette supposedly forbids hosting a party where people bring you gifts.  But somehow hostess gifts are okay, as are wedding gifts.  It is true that certain types of people cannot move past the idea that “birthday party” = “bring me presents,” and I agree that such an attitude and expectation is very childish.  And yet they still accuse those of us who do not expect gifts of being childish, as if they simply cannot believe that people would throw a party and not expect gifts.  Cultural norms change, and sometimes for the better.

In my circle, when it’s your birthday it’s your turn to host everyone.  That’s how the reciprocation of hospitality works for us.  As a result, I have been to many self-hosted birthday parties but never to one where the birthday person receives any sort of gift.  The only exception is a hostess gift (which authorities agree is allowable) if they are hosting a party at their house with all the planning, decorating, cooking, and alcohol that it entails.  Etiquette calls for reciprocation of hospitality; if you take your turn on your birthday because everyone takes their turn on their birthday, what does it matter?

Answer: It doesn’t.

But because that would limit our ability to be judgmental and haughty, we can’t possibly look at it that way.

TL/DR: Cultural norms change.  It’s a thing; look it up.

Some other choice quotes:

Poor commenter Athena (not me!) asks:

“I’m holding a wine tasting party for my birthday, and I’m paying for everything. Am I consigned to eHell?”

My response:

It depends on who is on call the day of your Judgment.  If it’s someone from a generation or two ago, you are certainly doomed.  To be safe, you should avoid planning any sort of social event or even leaving the house (except for work and limited grocery shopping) for a full 30 days before and after each birthday or half-birthday, lest any intentional or unintentional frivolity be seen as shamelessly honoring yourself.  It does not matter that you are paying for everything or that you do not expect gifts.  Anything you plan in the vicinity of your birthday shall be deemed to be a “self-hosted birthday party” and you shall be found a “selfish gimme-pig.”

On the other hand, someone from our generation (say, ages 20 – 40 or so), will likely have much more sense.  They would tell you not to give it a second thought and go have a blast.  It’s your birthday, after all, and you clearly do not have the expectation of being “honored” or being showered with gifts – what could possibly be wrong with having a good time and sharing the occasion with whomever you want?


I was totally joking about the “no events 30 days before and after” bit, but commenter Daphne contributed:  “just don’t call it a birthday party, and better yet don’t have it on or near your birthday.” (emphasis mine)  So what I said in jest apparently people are actually saying in seriousness.

Commenter kingsrings says:

“And now awaiting all the comments on here disagreeing with admin, crying foul over her opinion, and naming all the reasons why it’s okay to throw your own birthday party. I predict that the biggest counter-argument will be that it is acceptable practice in other countries to do that, so it’s okay.”

Um – yes.  That’s how it works.  Interesting that even though etiquette is a collection of culture-specific customs, we have people arrogant enough to insist, “Customs be damned – everyone must do everything in a way that makes sense to ME and MY culture.”  We’re not talking about universals of natural law (ex. slavery, human sacrifice), we are talking about culture-specific, morally neutral customs.

In fact, commenter Goldie says that in her country, “As an adult, you were EXPECTED to throw a birthday party for yourself and invite people, especially if it was a big milestone like 30, 40, 50 and so on. People would be hurt and confused if a friend of theirs skipped out of throwing a birthday party – you kind of owed them a celebration.”  RJ adds: “Living on Crete for a time I discovered that Greek people celebrate their Saint’s name day not their birthday: Dimitri would celebrate on St James, Costas or Cristina on St Christopher’s day. But no invitations were issued! Friends were expected to know all the saints’ days and to know that on Christopher’s day Costas would of course be ready to host guests.  Costas would therefore prepare a feast and hope his friends turned up to the party!”

From the admin:

“The first question you should be asking yourself is, ‘Why do I need a birthday party after the age of 18?’ You and others appear to have this unrealistic and selfish expectation that the world owes you a party and if your cretin friends won’t do it, you’ll take matters into your own hands to make certain you get the requisite party marking some age milestone. The second question that apparently no ever asks themselves is, ‘If I consider my birthday that important, why have I not considered the feelings of others in regards to their birthdays and taken the effort to host a party for them?’ ”

To answer the second question first, everyone knows their own birthday.  It’s administratively easier to plan something for a date you already know.

To answer the first question, of course no one “needs” a birthday party; no one is arguing such. Also, no one “needs” to socialize with friends or “needs” to host a dinner party or “needs” to meet coworkers for drinks. There are a host of things that no one “needs” to do and yet we do them anyway because they provide enjoyment to all involved.

What bothers me is that the specific prohibition from hosting a party (that presumably everyone would find enjoyable) on one’s own birthday lends far more weight to the idea that a birthday is “special” somehow than any party could.

From the admin again:

“There are 364 days and 51 other weeks in which to gather friends together to offer them hospitality yet quite a few commenters appear to have deceived themselves into believing they must have an excuse to entertain friends, in particular using the occasion of their own birthday.”

Yes.  That’s how it works when times are lean and money is short. like it has been for a lot of people these last few years.  You do need an”excuse” to do anything financially beyond the bare necessities.  Goldie adds, “I guess maybe because we grew up with a shortage of everything, people weren’t throwing parties for their friends just because, for no reason. It would’ve been weird.”

As much as I ordinarily hate the phrase, it applies here: “Admin, check your privilege!

Final thoughts –

It’s also pretty amusing to flip through the comments and watch people talk past each other on this issue.  In reading these conversations one would never guess that the point of communication is to convey ideas toward a goal of mutual understanding.  Apparently the goal of communication is a trial by combat in which one bludgeons the other person with the same words and phrases over and over until they walk away out of frustration.

I’m just glad I don’t have to put up with anyone like this in real life.

How to talk to clients: intermediate

(Content warning: moderate sufficient profanity)

For those of you that have mastered the skills in the elementary course, now it’s time to step it up: this time I am going to give you some tips on how to communicate diplomatically.  I am joined today by More Charitable Athena (MCA) who more accurately represents my true professional persona.

Scenario 1:

When the client gives you a supporting schedule that has no relation whatsoever to the area you are trying to audit:

Don’t say: Your stuff is fucked up.  Fix this shit before you give it back to me.

Although this is probably the most accurate thing you can say, it is ultimately unhelpful.  Mainly because if it were obvious to your client how fucked up their shit is, they would have fixed it before they gave it to you.  So you have to point out specifics about where and exactly how much their shit is fucked up.

Also, the aggressive phrasing can be a bit off-putting.  They might get defensive, cry, or worse, complain to your boss about what a big meanie you are.  Bosses are notoriously unsympathetic to client misstreatment of their employees, so if that happens you’re really screwed.

Instead try: I am having some difficulty with this supporting schedule you provided (point out at least two or three specific things that don’t work).  Could you please prepare a reconciliation between the supporting schedule and the account I’m looking at?

MCA says: Many people who work in private accounting (i.e. our clients) spend all day working in the trees.  They see the bark on one tree, the sap on another, that damn squirrel that ALWAYS grabs those acorns that need to stay JUST SO to put the picture together.  (Their training conveniently neglected to mention that goddamned squirrel, by the way.  They had to figure that shit out all on their own.)  They don’t see the forest because they have more than enough to do with just the goddamned trees.  So when we auditors come in looking at the forest, we need to communicate with them in terms of the trees they understand.

Bonus: When the client gives you the exact same shit they gave you before that’s fucked up in the exact same way and says, “Here you are – I fixed it.”

Don’t say: What in the actual fuck?  This is the same shit as before, fucked up in the exact same way.  Try again, numbskull.

Same pitfalls as above.  Do you want to be right or do you want to be effective?

Instead: Bring your computer over to them and ask, “Can you walk me through exactly how this reconciles these two areas?”

MCA says: I have found that a lot of people don’t know what it’s like to not know what they know.  Sure, THEY know that you have to add these three numbers and subtract 1/3 of the fourth number and multiply by the average internally-assigned acuity code of the patient population because they DO it every month.  But you don’t.  If you ask them to reperform what they did, one of two things will usually happen: 1) you will understand it, too; or 2) they will see that the supporting schedule they gave you is actually wrong and will fix it for real.

Scenario 2:

When the client disagrees with you and you turn out to be right (duh):

Don’t say: In yo FACE, sucka!!  Haven’t you learned yet not to argue with me?  I’ve forgotten more shit than you’ll ever know!

So you know all there is to know about accounting and auditing.  Fan-fucking-tastic.  Is that really where your sense of self-worth comes from?  Has it occurred to you that most people have priorities other than your particular area of expertise?  Look, the unfortunate reality is that while you see how important it is for people who do accounting for a living to, oh I dunno, actually know something about accounting, the rest of the world doesn’t feel that way.  And it shows.  Don’t suffer under any illusion that you’re going to change this.

Instead say: I’ll go ahead and post the adjustment on my end.  Would you like a copy?

MCA says: Most people care about doing their job right, but unfortunately may have been taught some incorrect or expired information.  If you want clients to be more helpful, get good at explaining things.  Talk to them in terms of the trees they understand (see Scenario 1 above) and walk them through how things work.  Draw pictures.  It helps.

Scenario 3:

When the client says to you on Thursday, “Let’s try and get these financial statements issued before I go on vacation next week.”

Don’t say: Well if you would quit having me change little LITTLE things that ripple through 7 workpapers, 2 adjusting entries, and 3 places in the report, maybe this would have already been done.  Don’t expect me to fix your shit and then question the manner in which I fix it.

Instead say: ….

(I got nothin’ here.  Ya just gotta do it at this point.  Sorry.)

MCA says: Can’t think of a positive spin on this one.  Your client’s just an asshole.

Note: This may or may not be inspired by my job right now.  I will admit nothing.

Don’t be an ass at the gym

Monday seems to be the busiest day at my gym, so in light of that I offer the following public service announcement:


How’s that?  Oh, you think I need to be more specific?  Alrighty then –

1) If you grab dumbbells off the weight rack, don’t do your reps right there where you’re standing.  You’re blocking me from grabbing the specific dumbbells that I need to do my reps, which I assure you are not less important than yours.  Why yes, I will stand diagonally behind you and do the hip jut while I give you the stink-eye in the mirror.  And then I will purposefully invade your personal space as I swoop in the nanosecond you move to grab / put away the dumbbells I need.  Just like I do every goddamned time you do this.  How have you not figured this out yet?

2) If you use a machine, use it and then get off.  Don’t sit there for 12 minutes (yes, I clocked your ass) playing on your phone while you rest for four minutes between your 20-second sets at the lowest possible weight.  There are other people here, and some of us want to use that machine which, as you will observe, is the only one of it’s kind in the gym.

Exception: If you are old, disregard #2.  You are a badass and I am more than happy to work around you.

3) Don’t spray the cleaner out in the middle, forcing us all to breathe it in.  I don’t want that shit in my lungs.  Spray a towel discreetly in the corner and then come over and wipe the machine off.

Overall, my gym is pretty awesome.  We have people of all sizes, shapes, ages, and levels of fitness there, and people are usually pretty good about being considerate and working around each other.  If we can just tamp down on these inconsiderate habits, the place will be even more pleasant.

Blog Party!! Join in the fun!

Come join the blog party! I’ve followed at least three or four new blogs so far, and I’m just getting started!

The Chicago Files

Blog Party BannerHi everyone! Today is the day for my first blog party! Please join in on this post!  Here are the details:

 1. Choose one of your favorite posts from your blog.  Whatever you’d like to share with the rest of us, whether it be about travel, novels, food, personal adventures, blogging, photography, etc…………. You may share up to three of your posts during the party, but please post only one at a time.  It’s best to wait awhile before sharing your second and third posts, as it will give others enough time to join in the fun!

2. Paste the link to your post in the comment section of this post; if you’d like to write something about yourself or describe your blog, we’d love it!

3. Have fun! There’s a virtual food and drink table with lots of Chicago deep-dish pizza and Canadian desserts (butter tarts and Nanaimo Bars!)…

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