Conference Calls and God’s Blessing

March 17, 2010

For me, being on a conference call at work is how I think it must be like behind stage at the Miss America pageant. Everyone is polite, polished and on their best behavior, but you know that it only takes a crooked smile or an ill-timed remark for someone to cut a bitch.

I understand the necessity and can appreciate the functionality of conference calls, but, for some reason, my skin cringes whenever I open up my Outlook calendar and see a block of time in my day with “Conference call” typed across it. It sometimes depends on who else is on the call.

If the client is involved, it’s not fun, but generally painless. They scream at us because their wife doesn’t like the way the faucet on her claw foot tub is detailed or because, as always, the project has gone like, three hundred percent over budget. We listen to their complaints and assure them that it’s the contractors fault and promise that we’ll follow up with them in a timely manner. The follow up is usually not necessary because, as soon as we hang up the phone, they find something else to complain about. This process continues until the end of the project when, after seeing what a gorgeous building has been designed, the client forgets about all their complaints and just wants to run out and brag to his friends about what he’s just paid way too much money for.

If the contractor is involved, I have to make sure and bring along my architect – to – contractor dictionary. For some reason, contractors don’t speak like you and me. They have this whole “Lost Language of Cranes” thing going on with how they disseminate information. It’s like their version of Ebonics. When they call, I usually sit on the phone, listening to what they have to say while doodling in my notebook. After they finish with whatever dribble they’re talking about, I assure them that our drawings are accurate and, if they can’t follow them correctly, then we’ll have to come on site for a visit that is out of our scope and will have to be paid by them, out of pocket. That usually shuts them up and gets me off the hook for anything.

But the absolute worst is when engineers are involved. I’ve already highlighted some of the tensions between architects and engineer is “Gerunds and Present Participles“, but let me expand on that. Architects and engineers are step children. Sure, we have the same ultimate goal of design and continuity, but we approach it from two totally different perspectives. Architects, wanting everything to be beautiful and harmonious, design with the end-user in mind. Engineers, on the other hand, only concerned with following the rules and stupid things like structural stability and fire prevention, design everything as if it’s a prison. They’re a huge pain the ass of every architect and, if you ask any engineer, I’m sure that relationship is the same from their perspective.

So imagine my horror when I learned last week that we were having a conference call on a huge multi-building project I had designed with the client, contractor and structural, mechanical, plumbing and electrical engineers.

Surprisingly, the conference call was not that bad. Everyone seemed to get along, or at least, that’s the way it sounded on the phone. We all agreed that the project, although it was only midway through construction, was a total success. We were all chatting away when, out of the blue, the client blasted a sneeze like I had never heard before. It was as if Zeus himself had cracked a bolt of lightning. What followed was an awkward silence during, what had been, a discussion filled conference call up until that point. The silence was broken with a very polite “God bless, you.” from the structural engineer.

After the interruption, we went back to discussing how we could engage the building more with its landscape. The civil engineer was in the middle of discussing topographic options what again, from out of nowhere, the client let out a sneeze that what so loud that, I swear it was heard in Canada. Again, out of the goodness of her heart and, what I’m sure was some middle-class guilt trip put onto her by her mother about etiquette and proper manners (see Manners and the Middle Class for more information) said “God bless you.” The client was silent and, again, we all went back to the discussion at hand.

For the next forty five minutes, the client sneezed another twenty-six times (I counted each of them with a tick mark in my notebook) and every time, that stupid engineer followed up with a conversation interrupting “God bless you.” Even over the phone, I could sense everyone’s annoyance and this engineer’s insistence to bless this poor client every time he sneezed. It wasn’t until the twenty-third “God bless you” that the client had finally had enough. In a very firm and polite tone he said “Thanks for the bless you’s, but I don’t believe in God.” Not wanting to offend him anymore or get fired, the engineer apologized profusely and explained to everyone that he had never really thought about the religious implications of what he was saying.

The conference call ended and for the next few days I sat at my desk wondering why everyone felt the need to say “God bless you” whenever anyone sneezed. Sure, I had always heard that sneezing was the closest anyone ever got to death, but I still couldn’t figure out why anyone thought they could speak for God and assume that He/She/It (if there is even a God) would want to bless someone for sneezing. Maybe God wants people to sneeze to show them that he/she/it’s watching them and, at any minute, can end their life very easily. If God is all knowing and all seeing, how can we as lowly human beings assume to know how he/she/it feels about any individual person and what comes out of their nose?

And in these days of political correctness, I’m not sure if “God bless you” is the appropriate thing to say to a sneeze. What if the sneezer is Muslim? Do you say “Allah bless you”? What if they’re Agnostic? Do you say “A force that may or may not exist bless you”? What about Scientologists? Do you say “Tom Cruise bless you”?

And what if you don’t like the person who is sneezing? What if you want them to be actively un-blessed by God? Do you say “God un-bless you”?

Instead of saying “God bless you” why don’t we do the more sanitary thing the next time some sneezes in our presence and ask them if they need a Kleenex?

My advice to God blessers:

The next time someone sneezes in front of you, don’t think you have the authority or wisdom to speak for the Almighty and bless them. Instead, take matters into your own hands and say “I bless you.” It’s a lot more personal and you won’t usurp on God’s territory.

My advice to everyone else:

The next time you’re sneezing and someone insists on blessing you, turn to them, sneeze without covering your nose, and see what their response is with your snot dripping down their chin. I doubt it will be a blessing.



7 Responses to “Conference Calls and God’s Blessing”

  1. mom Says:

    Bless you sweetie

  2. In Western Europe they thought that your soul exited from your nose every time you sneezed, and sneaky demons could jump in and possess you while it was out. The Irish thought that if you sneezed three times without a blessing then the fairies could steal your soul. So, that’s why the blessing.
    The Romans congratulated each other for expelling the sneaky little demons up their noses. So, that could be an alternative ;p If asked why you are congratulating someone you can repeat that pithy bit of completely useless trivia (:

  3. sup what is your MySpace site?

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