Friday, October 8, 2010

Museums and awkwardness

My blog got a lot of new readers this week. I noticed that my number of hits was easily 5 times that of what it normally is, which at first was rather exciting. Then I put two and two together. I was looking for a new roommate all this week and thus emailing a lot of strangers from craigslist. I remembered that I put the link to my blog in my chat info, meaning that anyone I emailed could read it. My theory was confirmed when everyone who came to see the apartment mentioned having read it. Shortly after meeting with everyone, my roommate told me she thought she'd be able to stay another month, making the whole roommate search kind of a moot point--with the exception of my short-lived fanbase. My roommate suggested she threaten to move out every couple of months or so to help me increase my blog's readership one potential roommate at a time. The only fault with the plan is that then my only readers would be people embittered by my dangling a tantalizing apartment (complete with undeniably adorable cat) in front of them and then pulling it away at the last second. It's probably more a recipe for angry comments then content readership. Ah well, it was nice to be popular while it lasted.

The other day, my friend wanted to go to a "Science Cafe" at the American Museum of Natural History. Basically, it's an event where you can buy overpriced drinks and listen to free lectures about the future of space travel. I had to go home and clean my apartment (for the aforementioned potential roommate visits), so I had already intended to not stay for much of it. In the end, we didn't stay for any of it because my friend and I were yet again reminded of a universal fact that I always manage to forget: events in museums are, without exception, awkward.

Then again, maybe this is only true for me. I can see the appeal of hosting events in museums. They generally contain wide, reasonably open lobbies, are full of conversation pieces, and add an air of grace and formality to any social function. Perhaps it's this exact formality I find off-putting. That or the fact that I am not a born social network-er. Put me in a room with wine, free food, and other would-be science nerds, and I'll inevitably hug the table to crudities and avoid conversation with anyone I didn't come with. A couple of summers ago, when I was staying at my parent's house before moving to New York, a friend and I decided to go to a "singles mixers" at the Houston Museum of Natural History called "Mixers and Elixirs." The free food we were promised with our admission fee turned out to be mini hot dogs and buttered popcorn. My friend and I eased our way amongst a crowd of middle-aged Houstonians, below a hanging brontosaurus, and quickly realized we were likely going to mix with no one. Also, there's no way to elegantly eat a hot dog.

By far the most awkward museum event of my life was at an event at the South African science museum in Cape Town. I went to a public symposium held by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (a group of us were invited because of a hook-up from our Conflict Resolutions professor). The speakers were apparently well known nationally and one of them was a current executive for the ANC. Anyway, the symposium was held in the science museum in a room called the "whale well" because it is an open room spanning several floors with whale skeletons and models hanging from the ceiling. By the time our group got there, all the seating on the floor was taken, so our only option was to lean against the railing. Me and my friends, however, were feeling plucky and innovative and decided to go up to the second floor where we could look down on the conference from above and actually found some seats in what was called the "whale sounds booth." Basically it was a hollow tube with seats in it, in which you could listen to the melodic songs of whales while overlooking the whale well. We decided the relative advantages of sitting down during an hour-long speech were worth listening to whales, so we set up camp there. But once the speakers actually started the whale sound loop chose that exact moment to switch to the loudest possible cacophony of whale noise and everyone (in a room containing several hundred people) turned to look at us. We scurried out of the booth in fits of laughter (mostly out of awkwardness, but really, the moaning and singing of whales at a serious function on the future of South African democracy is quite funny). It also happened later in the evening after the museum people had supposedly turned the sounds off, and we'd cautiously returned to our seats, only to be displaced again by the sounds of whales. Later in the night when we were at the reception to try our hands at mingling with South Africa's conflict resolving elite, we found out that everyone at the symposium thought we'd been pressing a button to make the sounds go off. "Are you the girls making the whale sounds?" was a common question we were asked. And that's why I'm now blackballed from any future Institute for Justice and Reconciliation functions.


  1. You have to find the young people. What about those events they have at museums where they have music and alcohol booths and it's basically a bar scene except it's easier to pick people up because you can say something about giant squid or how much you like the "thick, sensuous brushstrokes." Those are pretty cool.

  2. But I agree about not talking to people you didn't come with. Strangers can be weird and not interesting.

  3. The key to a fun museum event is free food AND free booze. I attended a couple of memorable events - one at Victoria and Albert Museum, the other at the Natural Science in Houston. I assure you that the open bar takes care of any awkwardness in short order. Both of these events were also information free (ie, no lecture, no ceremony). That said, it's still best to stick close to those you know.

  4. Lol - that is hysterical! You look like the button pusher kinda girl! :) I like events at museums - it does give you a chance to have something to talk about it! But sometimes you really should stick to the people you are with - others can be strange!! :)

  5. I was going to put whale sounds in this text box to mock you, but then I realized I don't know how to spell them. ooooooaaaaaajhhhh uuuuuoooaohhh (pretend those are whale sounds).