Ignoring things

I am irritable and scratchy today, and I think I know why.  It’s for a stupid reason, but one that has important things underlying it.

Background: my awesome employers, Index Data, are flying all of us out to Cancun at the end of the month for a sort of company conference/holiday in a luxurious hotel by a beautiful beach.  (“All of us” is fourteen people — I love small companies.)  So that’s a good thing, and it makes me very happy to look forward to a week of sunshine (especially in contrast to the vile weather we’ve been having in Gloucestershire).

But yesterday I got an email with some information about the hotel, which said:

Dinner dress code for men are slacks, collared shirt and enclosed shoes. Dress code for women are sundresses, dresses or slacks. No jeans.

That annoys me.  (And not only because of the horrible singular/plural mismatches.)

So why is this a big deal to me?  Partly, it’s that I can’t for the life of me imagine how it’s the hotel’s business what I wear; partly it’s the absurd arbitariness of picking one particular fabric, demin, and decreeing that it’s unacceptable.  It’s on a par with arbitrarily stating that, for example, brown shoes may not be worn, or cotton shirts, or that hair must not be brushed back from the temples.

But I’ve realised there’s something more fundamental at play here.

Like most of us, I have a complicated life.  I have a lot of thinking to do in my job as a programmer, in my avocation as a paleontologist, in living with a family who can be as complicated and demanding as every other family, in learning to play and sing an increasing repertoire of folk songs, and indeed in writing this blog.  On top of that comes all the very boring thinking-about-stuff that you have to do just to live a normal life in a modern society — dealing with bills, bank statements, and the rest.

So I cope the same way everyone does: by ignoring the things that I don’t much care about.  There are a lot of things I don’t give mental energy to, even though some of them are potentially useful.

For example, I could probably cut my energy or telecom bills by switching providers; but I don’t do that because it’s not worth the investment of time and mental effort — or at least it’s not worth it to me.  (Some people love this stuff, of course, and will happily spend hours comparing tariffs under different hypothetical usage scenarios.  More power to ’em.  It’s great that they enjoy it, but I don’t.)

Similarly, I’m sure I could make my desktop box run 10% faster by compiling a custom kernel.  But I just don’t care enough to put in the hours.  I used to enjoy that, long ago; but those days have passed and I think about other stuff instead now.  (Again, there people out there who love tuning their kernels and overclocking their CPUs, and again I sincerely wish them all joy.)

The problem is, there is just too much to think about, and something’s got to give.

And so we come to the Mexican hotel dress-code.  One of the things I don’t think about is clothes.  What to wear is a problem that I solved for myself in, I don’t know, 1985, and haven’t really given serious thought to since then.  Every morning I put on pretty much the same clothes (jeans, T-shirt, maybe a sweater over the shirt during winter) and forget all about the what-to-wear problem.

Just like finding the optimum telecoms provider, or compiling the ideal kernel, the problem of what to wear is one that some people — lots of them, maybe even most people — find fascinating.  It’s inexplicable to me, but evidently true, that lots of people consider clothes-shopping a treat rather than finding it a baffling and tedious chore.  (And again, as with telecoms optimisation or kernel compilation, I wish those people the best of luck and hope that they have lots of fun with this activity.)

So it’s a complete jolt to have a hotel — a hotel, which is supposed to be there to serve me, not dictate to me! — should suddenly thrust this boring, time-consuming issue back into my forebrain.  My approach to buying clothes has been that when I notice I’m down to my last few pairs of jeans, I order some more on the Internet, they arrive and life goes on.  Suddenly I have to start thinking about this stuff, and I have other things I want to be thinking about!

But for some reason, this is an activity that the world seems to think it’s OK to force me to think about.  It’s as though the Which? editors suddenly told me that I wasn’t allowed to use PlusNet as my ISP any more and I had to figure out who to use instead; or the Ubuntu people removed the pre-compiled kernel from their distribution and told me I had to go back to learning how to build my own; or as if I told the hotel staff that they had to dissect a turkey neck and measure the zygapophyses.  I enjoy doing that, and thinking through what those measurements mean.  But I have the basic common decency not to impose that on other people.  If only the hotel would do the same.

So my irritation with the no-jeans rule is because it’s broken my optimiser.  I have an efficient procedure for dealing with the clothes problem, and now I can’t use it.

… and finally

I played and sang four more songs at the Forest Folk Club last night: Julie Miller’s gospel song Broken Things (which I know from Lucy Kaplansky’s version), Richard Shindell’s cheerfully goofy ode to trucking The Kenworth of my Dreams, John Lennon’s meditation In My Life and Dar William’s celebration of urban serenity The Hudson.


34 responses to “Ignoring things

  1. The worst is when you discover this on arrival — not like you’re going to buy a suit in a flash on a island, say. It also seems out of place — if you’re goign to splash around in shorts all day, skip the suit, right?

    I appreciate that they want to maintain a decor, and that it might be fun for everyone to play dressup. Sort of like — if you go to an opera or ballet and everyone is wearing jeans, it seems a shame; it doesn’t detract from the show, but as a whole.. does it detract from the experience? or as some would put it.. has _something_ ‘cultural’ been lost, if we don’t dress up for a ballet? (if we dont’ go to a ballet _at all_ .. I mean, we can sleep at home, right? :)

    So I can see both sides .. it is sort of nice if everyone dresses up, but the fun is spoilt byu knowing that some people actually like dressing in a suit. Its no fair, since the rest of us dislike it :O

    I’m a long toothed developer; when I show up at a fancy stakehouse, I’m not wearing finary; _there will be blood._

    When I’m at a beach resort, and going into their pretend fancy little restaurant… _bring me service, thats why I’m paying_.

    But alas, bring a pair of pants; they didn’t say you had to wear a shirt, right? ;)

  2. They did say he has to wear a collared shirt: “Dinner dress code for men are slacks, collared shirt and enclosed shoes. Dress code for women are sundresses, dresses or slacks. No jeans.”

    But at least he has been saved from the ghastly sight of other people in T-shirt and jeans?

  3. You’re being offered a trip for Cancun and you complain because you might have to wear something else than jeans for the first time in thirty years?

    These people with first world problems have nothing on you.

  4. I would feel exactly the same, because I also do like you. I just want to spend time doing and thinking about what I really like or find interesting, the rest is established as much as possible to occupy as least time as possible. One example is the weekly shopping and another one, as you, clothes. I don’t go clothes-shopping unless it’s absolutely necessary (I order my geek T-shirts on the Internet).

    If I were you, I would even try to speak to my boss or whoever to change the hotel, but of course, if it’s not possible, I’d just solve the clothes problem asap, forget about it and enjoy the trip!

  5. Don’t have dinner in the hotel dining room. Problem solved.

  6. So, put this in the ‘ignore’ category. Are they going to hassle a paying guest, that’s part of a 14 person party? No, they won’t.

  7. Your Anglo-Saxon concept of what it means to have rules and a code of dress and how such things might be enforced is bizarre and foreign to almost everyone in all of world history. That goes double for Mexico. A Mexican would never search through the rules and try to comply with the dress code. He would just go wearing whatever seemed best to him. And that would be jeans, pretty much everywhere, unless he was going to be on stage or running to be a diputado at his state legislature.

    Now I suppose all bets are off at a beach resort for foreigners, especially one owned by foreigners. Even more so if it’s one of those Cancún places where they don’t admit Mexicans as paying customers because that would give a low-class vibe to the rich gringo tourists. But if that’s where you’re going, you deserve what you get.

  8. Oh, and I forgot to agree with Richard Mason. You’re going to be in **Mexico**. Get out on the street and have some tlacoyos and gorditas and pambazos and chapulines and tacos and escamoles and enchiladas and moles and those Yucatan grilled crepes with aged cheese and lots of sliced-to-order fresh tropical fruit and fresh-squeezed fruit juices. Taxis into town will probably be affordable if you’re in some gringo ghetto.

    Special things to be sure to try:
    -quesadilla de huitlacoche
    -cochinita or barbacoa
    -tacos de suadero or al pastor
    -ripe papaya (slices or a licuado with vanilla and cinnamon)
    -tlacoyos de haba (fava beans) or riqueson (fresh ricotta)
    -and, of course, chicharron, which is what bacon would be if it were made out of butter, or vice-versa
    -almost as healthy as chicharron are chocolate stuffed churros
    -exotic chocolate or chile moles originate far from Cancún but you might find them at restaurants in town, not on the street
    -early morning tamales from steaming vats on the street. Red and green moles are fine but the more exotic stuff like chayote con acelgas (tasty local squash and chard) or aceitunas and mole poblano (olives and chocolate mole) are more fun. Take whatever your local vendor suggests.

    Resort restaurant food, especially where gringo rules apply, tends to be soggy, bland, fried (yes, soggy and fried together!), and expensive. Better bring an anti-emetic if you want to be able to keep it down.

  9. Too bad there’s not a way for you to target your complaining at all the other people who don’t have a dress code for work AND don’t already own a pair of slacks. Because you and those five people could have a great bitch session, or start your own company or something. I’m afraid that for the rest of us, “Bad people are forcing me to put on something nicer than jeans!” is probably getting close to the lamest thing we’ve ever heard a grown man go on about. Next thing you know, they’ll be asking you to bathe, and only urinate indoors. The nerve!

  10. I also have a jeans and t-shirt dress code. If a restaurant doesn’t conform to it, they simply don’t get my business. Everybody wins! :-)

    Sure, in the grand scheme of things a dress code may be a minor issue, but in my case (and maybe Mike’s — I don’t know) it’s a simple example of a broader outlook. I don’t like being told how to behave when my behaviour’s not harming other people.

    Anyway, it’s their restaurant and they can run it as they like. But, I wouldn’t go.

  11. Matt,

    Did you ready any of the article?

  12. For people who do concern themselves with the social context of their appearance – and I appreciate you’re not one of them, and that’s fine – dress codes are the very opposite of an imposition. They are a welcome device for reducing stress and optimising decision-making. You [FSVO “you”] don’t want to be the only guy in a tux or full dress kilt when everyone else is in jeans and T-shirts, and vice versa. A dress code tells you what everyone else is wearing (and gives additional information about the social context of the event), allowing you to decide what to wear without worrying about the risk of awkwardness or embarrassment. (And if you want to make a point by being the only guy in jeans when everyone else is in full Prussian military period dress uniform, it lets you do that too).

    I don’t approve of rigid dress codes that would entail actually barring you from the restaurant for wearing the wrong kind of clothes, but I do welcome being informed about the level of formality of an event in advance of turning up.

  13. Excellent point, Iain. Where commenters have misunderstood my point, it’s been because I evidently gave the impression that it’s Not Wearing Jeans that I object to, whereas in fact it’s having to think about the what-to-wear issue. But you’re right that in other circumstances, a dress code can reduce the level of attention, or at least guesswork, that this issue demands. (Though I still can’t help thinking that in a more rational world, no-one would give a rat’s arse what anyone else chose to wear.)

  14. On one level, this is about a man who can’t be arsed to buy some slacks. But there is a second, deeper level. At that level, it’s about a broken optimiser. And then…there is a third, still deeper, final level. At that final level, this is about a man who can’t be arsed to buy some slacks.

    Hat tip.

  15. You already spent way too much time thinking about this issue (including writing this post) than it would have taken you to pick a random pair of pants in your closet, put it in your luggage and call it a day.

  16. I get the feeling this is not about having to think about the dress code, but about how you feel you look in these clothes. In a way you may not have solved the what-to-wear problem, because you’re only comfortable in yourself when you wear certain clothes.

  17. Off topic:
    I am reminded of Rorschach in Watchmen, now, who regarded his face as his mask, and his ‘hero’ costume mask as his real face. When outside of his costume, he was in digusie, since his real personality was the hero.

    On topic:
    @Matt — *lol* *ouch*

  18. I just want you to know, Matt, that as soon as I say your “third level”, I instantly thought of Brant Hansen’s Dark Knight review.

  19. @Steve: What makes you think everyone owns a certain type of clothing?
    So yes, I admit, the only trousers I own right now are jeans and the ones that go with a suit.
    Might be my lack of knowledge of the term slacks, but I figured it to be the middle-ground of “decent” clothing and not quite as fancy as pinstripe and not as casual as jeans.

  20. Robert suggests: “In a way you may not have solved the what-to-wear problem, because you’re only comfortable in yourself when you wear certain clothes.”

    Well; I am only comfortable when I wear clothes that I actually own, yes. When I have to go out and buy new clothes — clothes that I don’t want to spend money on, don’t want taking up valuable space in my hand-luggage-only journey, that I will never never wear again and that I don’t even know how to go about buying, then you’re right — I don’t feel comfortable.

  21. You’re all missing the most important point: “slacks”? Who has referred to “slacks” this century? Next they’ll be expecting people to wear “flannels”!

    Also I note that women are even more restricted, in that they seem to have to wear either “slacks” without a top, or the one-piece form of (generally) women’s clothing.


  22. Thank you! I’ve been saying something similar all my life. Though for me, it’s as much about the the money spent on having all the right clothes as it is about the ‘mental energy’ spent on thinking about how to dress.

    I especially hate it when people say that dressing nicely is about ‘respecting’ people. I’ve never understood that. No, that’s not true – I understand the concept they’re trying to get at, but I vehemently disagree with it. There are many ways I can show my respect for people. Many tangible ways which actually mean something. Why must being self-conscious be one of them?

    I actually do enjoy shopping and thinking about my clothing under certain circumstances, but I bristle at the importance placed on how people dress.

  23. @Mike —

    FWIW, I’m up to Buffy s2 episode 5 I think — just saw Reptile Boy now; the dialog and writing so far in s2 is consistently better, or at least more amusing. Each episode has some great fun in it .. enjoying it much more. (And hey, now that Spike has arrived.. let the fun begin!)

    So damn you all, now I have less free time :O

  24. Hi, jeff, thanks for the update! Glad that S2 is working better for you, and I am pleased to say that from here on in (Halloween, Lie to Me and onwards) it picks up more and more momentum. (Though I do often wonder what the very Season 1-like Go Fish is doing right at the end of this season.)

  25. If you are serious about maintaining your optimized life, don’t go to Cancun. Travel can be completely exhausting because you constantly have to think about things that you don’t have to think about in normal life. Even things you take for granted – where you leave your watch on the bed side table, which side you get out of bed, the path you take to the john, where you keep your clean socks – all take mental energy to deal with. I’m often wrung out after a two night trip. I used to think it was the time zone change, because I used to travel from the east coast to the west coast of the US a lot, a three hour shift, but I get the same feeling when I travel in a single time zone.

    Since you are planning to go to Cancun, go with the flow. Don’t you folks have the saying, “In for a penny, in for a pound”?

  26. John Ritter was in a Buffy episode? Wow :)

    Season 2 really gets interesting!

  27. Yes, John Ritter’s episode (Ted) was one of the first to be truly disturbing. If anything, the eventual revelation of Ted’s nature made it less so — the idea that he was just a deceptive, manipulative, authoritarian man who had come crashing unstoppably into Buffy’s life was creepier.

    Glad you’re enjoying it!

  28. Was very sleepy (up witth e babies most of the night) so I’ve forgotten now, but there was a few details thrown in that seemed totally out of place, as well. ie: He was an okay bloke who got progressively creepy and alarming, but the Scoobies had nothign on him; then they found some ‘evidence’ they thought they coudl leverage… but that was throwaway, since more importantly, he was a robot with bodies in the basement. So it seemed out of place to have the very loose evidence tossed around. Can’t put my finger on it, but something about that sequence doesn’t resonate.

    The great thing about video is that even when you’re tired out, unable to Produce (write, code, do somethign useful), you can still consume, and consume something challenging. TV has always been ‘the boob tube’, but there is a good backlog now and even quite a bit of good, plus our culture is getting better* at making classics available again. So no need to compromise.. I may be up all hours day and night, feeding a baby in either arm so my wife can get some shuteye, but I can still catch some excellent video, fill my mind with somethign great. Good times.

    * big sleep induced rant, no idea where this came from: in some form or another; the Industry may be fighting it, but they too are starting to ‘get it’; It salways surprises me to see younger folk listenign to music from before they were born; when kids born in the 90s can be 20+ years old (*shudder*), and you catch them buying Zeppelin from iTunes .. awesome. The breadth of our history is available, so dive in.

    Books/ebooks are of course extra painful as we all know, and tht publishing industry is really going through the fight of its life. I hope that works itself out well (open standard, come on!)

    I had looked into some torrents, out of curiousity; in Canada, the Beeb used to charge _outrageous_ amounts of money for old Doctor Who, and of course theres a lot of it; what they failed to realize was that peopel interested in buying old Doctor Who woudl likely bne the ones to buy it all up, if they could. Like Star Trek fans. Charging $150 per year of ST:TNG so the whole lot of it is $1000ish, is rediculous. For DW it was on the order of $50 per story arc (4-6 episodes) if I recall right, or a few hundred per year. I mean, it was many thousands of dollars. So I looked and sure enough, complete DW torrents available. If you ‘insult the audience’, they will cross the line. (Generally we shoudl walk the higher path and just say ‘you make the rules, I don’t have to indulege at all’, but peopel will cross a blurry line more often than not I iamgine.)

    Anyway, I brought all this up in reference to comic books — same problem as DW, but larger still. Especially with comics doing crossovers and character or story sharing, its really hard to pick up useful story lines for somethign affordable, and theres s good 60+ years of good comic history. I dont’ have the foggiest idea how you’d know whats available or evne get.. shoudl you want the entire Batman say, or the lesser known characters of the 1950’s.

    Yet, you can go to a torrent site and find in 20 seconds, that archivist pirates have collected together ‘complete’ (who knows how complete..) collections by year, by publisher, you name it. Its shocking. Heck, some large numnber of peopel seem to sit around scanning comics or books, OCRing books content and publishign archives of books.

    People evidently want media, but its so hard to find. Peopel will pay… but Big Industry doesn’t know wtf they’re doing.

    Still, at least the Beeb did finally get in gear, and DW is more reasonable now (though the backcatalog is still mroe expensive than it should be, at least here.) But $50 for a season of new DocWho, thats excellent (and with the Confidentials all bundled in, great stuff!)

    And hey, Buffy gets it:
    $100 for the complete series. *Now thats what I’m talking about* ..

    Thats my Xmas present to self ;)


  29. Jeff, your criticisms of the internal logic of Ted are legitimate. But they don’t bother me much because that episode is all about atmosphere, and the stark wrongness of his behaviour.

    And on predatory pricing: I couldn’t agree more. The basic question for publishers (whether of books, movies or TV shows) is whether they want to position themselves as our friends or our enemies. Extreme predatory pricing gives the latter impression, and can hardly fail to result in consumers seeing publishers as their enemy.

  30. Ted was a great episode, for sure; all the more painful for John Ritter having passed on so suddenly couple years ago :/ (but I suppose the upside is Kaley Cuoco (sp) went over to the new Big Bang Theory, which is an excellent show, though not as refined as BBC’s The I.T. Crowd.)

    Surprise and Innocence were excellent, and Sarah M. G. really pulled that one off.. the tough Slayer who is ultimately just a 16 year old girl (akin to the final episode of season 1.) Phases is up next.

    Season 2 has really gotten going .. gotta quite a grip on me now, but I’ve not the time I need to just plow through 5 hours a night like I wish I could ;)

    Apologies for the Buffy side-tracking ;)

    Mr. Pointy > Angel > Edward

  31. You’re so right about SMG’s performances in Surprise and Innocence. She lives in that role, and is utterly persuasive without ever seeming like she’s acting. The highest complement I can pay is to say that I don’t think of her as SMG at all, but as Buffy.

  32. I was a little suprised that you should complain when the hotel was sending you some free footwear with its email. Then I reread it and realised that “and enclosed shoes” meant something else.

    But don’t pretend that taking a shirt out of the wardrove rather than a T-shirt is an intolerable strain on your RAM. If you’re a scruffy thing, admit it.

  33. The conclusion of the matter was:

    I made some kind of attempt to buy trousers online before quickly getting overwhelmed by the problems of measurements, of the names of the different kinds of cuts and so on, and of my unusually muscular thighs. (It’s strange but true. I don’t know why it should be when I never do any exercise, but they are extremely solid and won’t fit most trousers that are in my size for waist and leg length).

    So I said “badgers to that”, and just took my black jeans. Wore those in the evenings, without the slightest hint of a problem.

    BTW., it was an awesome trip. I must blog it when I have a moment.

  34. Pingback: What I did on my holidays | The Reinvigorated Programmer

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