Two weeks ago, I was the MC for four days at the LIANZA Conference in Christchurch.
You think it’s a bit random? Sure; I’ll give you that. My credentials were assessed on the basis of a 20 minute presentation I gave at a Southland Librarian Convention over a year ago at the Oamaru Opera House. My speech was standing room only . . . well; no it wasn’t, but only because the Waitaki District Library put out a plethora of chairs . . . but I got a standing ovation. Ok ok OK, I was the last speaker and people had to get up to leave . . . ANYWAY.
After my presentation, a lovely Maori woman approached me and asked if I’d speak at the LIANZA Conference. And then a few months later, I got an email from Joanna about being MC. And Joanna and I corresponded for the better part of a year, before I finally met her at dinner on the Saturday before the conference kicked off. She said, “Do you remember me?” and I roared, “Of course I do! Great to see you again!”
Halfway through the same evening, another lovely woman came to me and said, “Hi, I just wanted to see how you’re getting on and are you comfortable?” I had no idea who she was and no recollection of ever meeting her; but I thought I was doing a pretty good job of blagging it, until she said, “Do you recognise me?”
Whenever I’ve doggedly persisted in (my preferred strategy of) complete ignorance, it tends to turn brutally swiftly into a global train-wreck, so I said: “Look, I’m so sorry; I don’t.”
She said, “I’m Joanna. Joanna Matthew.”
And I was all: “Are you SURE?”
I realised that who I’d thought was Joanna was someone else completely; in fact another person entirely called Tilapia. And happy that I’d finally sorted out who was who, I addressed her by her name – Tilapia – for the rest of the dinner.
I noticed her eying me a bit funny; but since I get that a lot I didn’t fully register it UNTIL about five o’clock the following morning when I woke up in a cold sweat, thinking: “OMG tilapia’s a fish! IT’S. A. FUCKING. FISH!”
For those of you not literate about fish, it is a freshwater, pleasant tasting fish which originated in the Middle East and in 2016, tilapia was the likely source of an American woman’s flesh-eating bacteria infection.
When I checked, I realised her name was – and probably still is – Te Paea.
Beautiful name, Te Paea.
Much better than Tilapia.
For anyone who thinks this story can’t possibly get any worse, well you obviously don’t know me AT ALL. So hi there! Thanks for reading, and let me assure you: it absolutely can.
So I tracked down Te Paea on the Sunday, and said, “I’m soooo sorry, I called you a fish.”
She said, “Oh that’s ok.” And then she said . . . “Actually, I thought you called me Labia.”
So obviously I’d prefer neither, but if I HAVE to choose between calling someone a fish or a vagina, I’m just so glad I went with fish.
Even a flesh-eating fish.
Since I once addressed someone as Nubbin, as in a small lump or residual part of bone or cartilage I could argue that I’m not culturally insensitive so much as GENERALLY insensitive . . .
. . . but it’s probably better I stop here.