A couple of evenings ago, I went to see a stand-up comedian who picked out several members of the audience to talk to, largely about their jobs. He picked on an IT consultant, an estate agent and a “tile inspector”. Unsurprisingly, the man who spent his days inspecting tiles turned out to be the best source of comic material and I found myself breathing a huge sigh of relief that I wasn’t sat near the front. What would he have made of a lexicographer?!
Although my profession can be a good source of interesting small talk when you meet new people and means that you tend to be remembered, there are times when you just don’t feel like going into it all yet again, especially when you get cornered by a particularly dull person at a party! I’ve tried being vague and just saying “I work in publishing”, but inevitably that only draws the process out and you end up explaining the whole thing eventually. And I’m just not a very good liar.
A couple of years ago, I did a round-the-world trip which involved filling in lots of immigration forms which had a space for ‘occupation’ and faced the dilemma of what to put at each new country. In some places, such as Hong Kong and the US, my instinct was to avoid complications with severe-looking immigration officials and so plumped for “teacher” - I do teach a few hours a week, so it’s not a complete lie. But was very pleased that I owned up to my true vocation going into Australia. I arrived in Sydney early in the morning rather sleepy after an overnight flight from Hong Kong and handed over the form that I’d filled in several hours earlier without much thought. “Come on, you’re gonna have to tell me!” came the excited reaction in a broad Aussie accent from the smiling immigration lady. At first I was completely thrown and wondered what on earth I’d done wrong, before it clicked - she was referring to my job. I don’t think I’ve ever had quite such a friendly, animated welcome to a country as the conversation which followed and left me smiling to myself as I wandered bleary-eyed through customs.