Thursday, June 07, 2007

obsequious

Are you familiar with this word? I wasn't until an older co-worker of mine used it to describe me. I smiled and nodded and said, "Oh, thank you very much, you are too kind, you're making me blush." Then I got home and looked it up in the dictionary:

ob·se·qui·ous : [uhb-see-kwee-uhs] –adjective
1.characterized by or showing servile complaisance or deference; fawning: an obsequious bow.
2.servilely compliant or deferential: obsequious servants.
3.obedient; dutiful.


I was pissed.

"SERVILE?
Do she think I act SERVILE???" I thought. "Maybe at my waitressing job, where I literally am a SERVER, but in my professional, 9-5 desk job? Where I wear high heels every day and use words like 'corporate restructuring' and 'P&L statement' and 'Q3 and Q4'? Is that really how I seem to my bosses and colleagues? At their beckon-call, ready FAWN over their achievements or honor them with the likes of an OBSEQUIOUS BOW?"

Sadly, she was right. At that point in my life and at that point in my career I'd developed this awful habit of "YES-ing' everybody to death:

YES, I will send that fax for you.
YES, I will pick up your lunch.
YES, I will take on the work that you should be be doing because you are too "busy" (a.k.a. incompetent/lazy) to do it yourself.

I YES-ed myself into over-working myself at all times and wondered why I constantly felt taken for granted.

After spending hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars on therapy, I have learned to be less obsequious with people. It's a constant battle for me, but I've gotten much better about it. I use little words like "NO" a lot more often:

NO, I cannot get that done by 5 o'clock.
NO, I cannot work extra hours this week.

And it has been difficult, but I have even found ways to work this less-obsequious persona into my servile waitressing job:

NO I will not cover your shift for you so you can go see the Red Sox.
NO I will not give you separate checks.
NO you may not have another drink, you are shut off.

As a brunette especially I felt the naturally obsequious woman inside me melting away. She was replaced by this whole other kind of woman, a brunette woman who didn't feel pressured to smile all the time, to laugh at other people's bad jokes, or be super-duper friendly to people who were being rude to her. She was reserved and conservative and she had this way of commanding respect from people, all people, even those seated at her tables at the restaurant. She was poised, polite, and friendly, but she was never obsequious. She knew that a straight, serious facial expression which only broke into a bright smile if you earned it was just as effective with people as the bright, bubbly smile that never left her face when she was a blonde. She was confident that her natural demeanor was quite enough.

Now my blonde hair is back, and all of that obsequiousness is back right along with it. Last night at work, for example, I kept hearing myself say things like:

"Oh, I'm so sorry! We're out of the ribeye. I'm sorry for that, really. I should have told you that earlier. Sorry," and,

"Oh, you want one glass of wine split between two glasses? NO, no, no, that's fine!!! You don't need to do that here at the table, it's quite alright, I'll have the bartender do it for you, or I'll do it. Really, it's no trouble at all!" and,

"Thank you guys so much for coming in! Really, it was a pleasure. Enjoy your night, and enjoy the rest of your week! Thanks very, very much!"

All night long I heard phrases like these coming out of my mouth, and each time, I felt shocked at how over-the-top they sounded. Seriously, when would I have told them we were out of ribeye? Before they came in to the restaurant? Should I have called them at home? And one glass of wine split into two glasses? Who does that? They wouldn't have minded pouring it at the table, why did I make such a fuss when I knew the bartender was slammed? And who was I, imploring these strangers to have a great night and a great week and a great life...they were nice enough, but seriously, who cares? 'Thank you' is certainly a plenty friendly way to say goodbye.

But I felt even more shocked by how naturally these words spilled from my lips.

And at the end of the night I felt exhausted. Really, it's tiring, showing this SERVILE COMPLAISANCE all the time, and FAWNING over people left and right.

Where did that sassy, no bullshit brunette attitude go?

2 comments:

cara said...

I'm a sometimes lurker but I just had to comment now. Your hair is not making you obsequious. If coworkers are recognizing that as part of your personality, perhaps that's who you are.

As a very light-haired brunette who highlights to a shimmery blonde for no reason other than I like the way it looks, I'm asking you to get a grip and realize that a woman is sassy and strong because that's who she is. Not because of the color of her hair.

From your posts you seem to be a chameleon, changing your attitude and personality based on who you're around and what shade your locks currently are. Who's the real Kitty? I'd like to read more about her.

s. said...

i agree with cara. you have bought into this idea of the demure and easy blonde, which is just in your head, and this affects how you act as a blonde. and conversely you think there is this way you have to be as brunette so you act like that. but there is no one way to be or look as a blonde or brunette. there are ditzy and obsequious brunettes just as there are no bullshit blondes. just be yourself. hair color does not define a person. if this were true so would race and skin color and obviously they do not.