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Friday, February 7, 2014

But It's A Different Word!

For some reason, the other day I found myself thinking about someone I used to work with when I was employed by The Body Shop in Denver. When I started out with the store, I was assembling gift baskets for the holiday shopping season, and was given only the smallest possibility of working in the shop through that busy time. I must have done something right, because I spent about four or five years working for the owners in three different shops. After the gifting madness was over, I needed to have some more in-depth product training on the products and ingredients. I was entrusted to someone I'll call Sally for training. Sally had been with the owners from the opening, so she had received training from company staff before the store even opened, and it made sense to put her knowledge and expertise to good use.

During my career at The Body Shop, Sally and I had an interesting relationship. I distinctly remember one day when she took me into the back room for some discussion about ingredients. She picked up a product and went over the things on the label, referring to our huge product and ingredient book when necessary. As she was looking at this particular product, she came to the ingredient sodium chloride, AKA salt. Salt is a common ingredient in cosmetics; it is excellent as a natural thickener for shampoos and body washes. As an aside, salt is also used to soften water, so I guess it's possible that it might also help the product get more sudsy in hard water. But I am not sure, so don't quote me on it!

When Sally read that there was salt in the product as a thickener, she told me how I should remember that fact. I actually didn't need a mnemonic device, or memory helper, for this, because it was simple and straightforward and was stored in my memory banks right away. But I wanted to be polite, so I listened anyway. Sally told me to think of chlorine in a swimming pool, and in the summer, a pool is full of people. Pool, chlorine, lots of people, equals thick. I observed that it would be easy for me to remember it by thinking that eating too much salt, the ingredient we were discussing, would make me retain water and cause my ankles to be thick. "No," she said, "you need to think of a swimming pool." Uh-huh. Nice of you to tell me what my brain will understand best by using an entirely different chemical and some odd association. I just smiled sweetly and let her continue to train me. After dedicating myself to learning as much as I could on my own about ingredients and products, I became the official trainer for the staff within a few months. And I didn't do it by demanding that people remember things the way that was best for me.

Our shop employed all sorts of people. The products and philosophies of the company attracted customers and staff that ranged from people who just love bath products and makeup, to social and environmental activists. We had liberals and conservatives, vegetarians and meat-eaters, gay, straight, multiple nationalities...you name it. Sally was born and raised in a ski-resort town in Colorado (vagueness being discretion, as it were), and had spent a year during college studying in the Burgundy region of France, since she majored in French. One day when it was just the two of us working in the shop, we started talking about food. As a non-vegetarian, I was curious about what exactly she ate. I knew she ate yogurt, but did she also eat eggs and other dairy? How about fish? Some people are lacto-ovo vegetarians, and some are occasional pescatarians (or pescetarians). Sorry to pull that word out of the mothballs, but pescatarians sounds so much cooler than fish-eaters!

I was simply curious about Sally's protein sources. I am an omnivore, so my protein sources are plentiful, running the gamut from soy to steak, and all sorts of things in between. She didn't object to others eating meat, she just wasn't that into it. And I can understand that stance. There are many reasons one can choose to be a vegetarian, whether they have qualms about eating other creatures, or due to concerns over how much water and land is required to raise animals. Neither of us was judging the other's dietary choices. But Sally surprised me when she said that she and her boyfriend often ate lamb. I told her that I didn't much care for lamb, but even if I did, I felt weird about it being a young sheep, just like veal is a young cow-critter.

Sally was stunned. "No, it isn't!" she exclaimed. I told her that yes, indeed, lambs were the young of sheep. She refused to believe me. "But it's a completely different word! In French, the flesh of a sheep is called mouton." I relied that it was a different word in English as well, and that in English, the word was mutton. And that like veal and beef, lamb and mutton were words that described the same animal, one young, and the other mature. Sally decided that I was a kook and didn't know what I was talking about. There was no way that she was eating a young animal, for Heaven's sake! She was too cool and too nice for that. I simply didn't know what I was talking about. Lamb was an entirely different species, and that was that. We agreed to disagree, and I had Gram shaking her head over that conversation. As I recall, she came up with a name to describe what she saw as Sally's lack of smarts. And it was an entirely different word...



Afterword: As I was writing this, I remembered the incident that I had originally recalled, and told Trent about the other day. During another holiday season when we were incredibly busy, I brought my lunch to work every day so that I could eat it in the back room during my brief breaks. This gave me a few extra minutes of much-appreciated rest. My lunch was usually a single-serving can of chicken, a bagel, and a piece of fruit. One day, Sally came in the area and began berating me for eating smelly tuna in the small back room. I answered that I never ate canned tuna (true at that time), it was chicken. Once again, she refused to believe me, and began to argue that I was lying, it was tuna. She could smell it. I offered to get the empty can out of the recycling bin and prove it to her, but she suddenly decided that she had no more time to discuss the matter...