Sunday, September 16, 2007

Diplomat's Necktie Caught in His Fly

Edward Gross, Embarrassment in Everyday Life: What To Do About It! Palm Springs, CA: ETC Publications, 1994, p. 7.

Are all the embarrassments reported to me genuine? Some persons have asked me that and I can only reply that I do not know. A few seem so unlikely that I wonder. If the doubts are strong, I have not used the report. But human behavior is so full of unlikely events that it takes a certain amount of arrogance to toss anything out. I can only testify to those I have witnessed myself. On the other hand, where an incident is reported with details that could not be fabricated, then there seems little doubt.

Gross, Embarrassment in Everyday Life, p. 32.

A woman whose husband had served on the staff of a United States foreign aid program told of a diplomatic reception to which she found herself seated next to a foreigner. He sat stiffly, every inch the diplomat in his dark gray suit, with perfectly matched conservative tie and black patent leather shoes. At last, after a long silence in which no one stopped by the couch he stood up to leave only to notice that his fly was open. He quickly sat down, and in hurriedly trying to zip up unnoticed, caught both ends of his tie in the zipper.

He tried to shoo his hostess away when she offered help but in raising his head, he only tightened the tie around his neck. He slowly began to turn blue. By the time the hostess returned with a pair of scissors, everyone in the room was focused on the unhappy diplomat. In his hurry to escape, he snipped the tie in half and ran out of the room, the long ribbons of his tie waving from his fly.

Unfortunately, his troubles were far from over. Within hours everyone in the diplomatic community had heard of the incident and relayed it to friends elsewhere. When persons met him, their eyes would drift down uncontrollably to his famous fly. He had become a figure of fun, his reputation as a serious diplomat destroyed. His country had to call him back to a bureaucratic job where he'd not be noticed and the incident forgotten. I doubt if people did ever forget. The woman who told me about it certainly hadn't.

[Endnotes, p. 222: On the zipper-fly report, Professor Jan Harold Brunvand, an urban folklorist and author of several books on urban legends wrote me that he has encountered variations of this story from several sources. He finds the stories told not by a first person witness but by a "friend of a friend."

I replied that the story was told me by the wife of a former graduate student who did his graduate research under my direction. She and my student served in low level positions in the United States foreign services. Since I know both of them well and have for many years, I simply cannot believe she made up the story. She provided too many details of the event, the date and place (which I have deliberately left out) to cast doubt on the story's credibility.

It is my belief that occasionally urban legends are based on some actual happening which is then taken up, embellished and rendered as a commentary on human foibles by others. In any case, it is a good story and does illustrate not just a human foible but the frailty of reputations and identities.]