There is this one passage from a novel read last year, and I have forgotten about it for a long time, until now.
As is the case with every other society, certain segments of Yangon can be a bit like descriptions from such novels, despite the fictional setting in Canada almost a century ago. Indeed, the basic rule of the game remains the same – no matter the gender – and can even be found in business contexts, except that the modern, professional version of rules takes a different format. Ever wonder why $3,000 suits exist? Newsflash: It’s not just the thread count. Or that time when someone at work said to me, “Never split the bill, because it says you do not have money. Always take care of the bill, or let the other party take care of it,” At another time, someone more senior than me advised me to wear diamonds and not pearls because “pearls are weak,” as I drew up a plan to handle workplace bullying.
Like it or not, vanity lessons have always been an essential part of human societies.
So I actually chuckled when I read this passage for the first time last year:
…Winifred had insisted on these outfits. She said I’d need to dress the part, no matter what my deficiencies, which should never be admitted by me. “Say you have a headache,” she told me. “It’s always an acceptable excuse.”
She told me many other things as well. “It’s all right to show boredom,” she said. “Just never show fear. They’ll smell it on you, like sharks, and come in for the kill. You can look at the edge of the table – it lowers your eyelids – but never look at the floor, it makes your neck look weak. Don’t stand up straight, you’re not a soldier. Never cringe. If someone makes a remark that’s insulting to you, say Excuse me? as if you haven’t heard; nine out of ten they won’t have the face to repeat it. Never raise your voice to a waiter, it’s vulgar. Make them bend down, it’s what they’re for. Don’t fidget with your gloves or your hair. Always look as if you have something better to do, but never show impatience. When in doubt, go to the powder room, but go slowly. Grace comes from indifference.” Such were her sermons. I have to admit, despite my loathing of her, that they have proved to be of considerable value in my life.
Atwood, Margaret. The Blind Assassin. New York: Anchor Books, 2000, pg. 235.