Self Interrogation, or How to sound like an expert

NorthernpkwySomething strange happened when I took Molly, our cat, to the vet.  I exchanged pleasantries with Dr. Whatsit and then, all of a sudden, Dr. Whatsit assumed control of both sides of the conversation.

Dr. W.: Do I think your cat should stay here another night?

Dr. W. (without pause): Yes, I do

Dr. W. (without pause): Do I think it would be a terrible idea  to take her home tonight?

Dr. W.: (without pause):  No, I do not.

In effect, I stood there and the vet interviewed himself. 

I couldn’t help feeling that the vet was sending me a message over and above his "message" about Molly.  He seemed to be to be saying, "Listen, clearly, you’re hopeless.  You are not soliciting the information you need.  So, here’s the deal.  I am going to ask the questions you should have asked.  And then I’ll answer them."  More exactly, there now seemed to a silent "you idiot" in front of everything he said.  (Maybe, I’m just being too sensitive.) 

Did people interview themselves like this, say, five years ago?  I don’t think so. 

12 thoughts on “Self Interrogation, or How to sound like an expert

  1. gary

    I autoconverse all the time. It’s good to talk to someone with sense occasionally. 😉

  2. Constantinos

    lol i laughed out loud when i read this, this method of speaking is a pet peeve of mine. yes, it’s a relatively new thing, over the last few years ago, and it’s so irritating! (a stand-up comedian did a bit about it recently, almost as funny as your post actually).

    i’ve always attributed it to people’s shrinking attention spans. a distant cousin to the need to abbreviate everything these days.

  3. LK

    good one re “pet peeve”.

    as for people doing call & response, playing both interviewer and interviewee i think it may well have a lot to do with broadcast talk and sitcom speak leaking into our lives. our emulation of the rhetoric of a jon stewart, an ellen degenere, johnnie cochrane, a jerry seinfeld etc. heck, everyone just wants to perform (apologies/kudos to mr goffman)

  4. Matt

    Um…I’m not entirely certain I’d trust someone who did that with the welfare of my fur-friend. (I know if _my_ doctor did it, I’d run screaming from the room.)

  5. brian

    I go to a MD doctor and take my pet to a DVM, but I had an uncanny experience with both types of doctor. The MD hardly knows my name and doesn’t seem interested in being acquainted. Just treat the disease, process the paperwork, and collect the money, thank you very much. The MD became highly animated one recent visit when he observed me reading the salmon-colored Financial Times. He wanted to know why I was reading that particular newspaper, and questioned me at length. He then started a discussion about investments (Jesus, I’m an anthropologist with an MBA, with a medical condition to be treated, not an investment consultant). I decided to do an experiment. I took the Financial Times with me to the Vet’s office. The vet knows my name and my dog’s name. He saw the salmon-colored newspaper and joked that the parakeets would be pleased to have their cages lined with such an exciting color of a newspaper. My conclusion? Vets ARE comedians. They know you need them but you don’t really need them. MDs are constrained by money and paperwork, and are clueless about comedy much of the time. If you have a self interviewing vet who exhibits a bit of humor, keep him. You are not an idiot and it isn’t about you. Behind the scenes, there are societal and structural conditions at play.

  6. Irene

    It seems I hear this most among professional athletes and coaches in press conferences: “Should I have pulled that pitcher earlier? Well, hindsight is always 20/20.” It’s defensive. The speaker seems to anticipating your questions but what he’s really doing is posing the questions he’d prefer to answer, phrasing them in a way that he can deal with and altogether avoiding questions he just can’t or won’t answer. It’s definitely a control maneuver.

  7. Ken Erickson

    The “tag question” is a pragmatic resource that English people use all the time, don’t they? I mean, in some parts of the English speaking world, asking as question as part of a statement is almost as natural as saying “like” all the time if you are a teenager from Glendale. Don’t you think so? I mean, like, isn’t it just an expansion of what we often do in conversation? Or is it? I think it is. But it can be annoying, can’t it. See, that phrase didn’t beg a question mark, did it. Did any of them?

    I wonder when a question is NOT a declarative statement. English has that peculiar prosodic business of raising the tone at the end. Not everyone does that. Nor do people always expect an answer to questions, of course. It occurs to me that in China, people ask “Why is that,” (Wei, shenme ne), all the time when no logical reason exists to ask the question. Like when the restaurant has squid on the menu but there is no squid to be had at all (almost unthinkable but it happens). And the person ordering may say “Wei, shenme ne” as a way of stating that it is rather amazing that they don’t have any. They don’t really expect an answer and they will go on to browse the menu and find some other squiddy thing to eat, instead, while glowering.

    Thanks, Grant, for opening my eyes (and ears) with your blog.

  8. Sean Ryan

    Not to bring in Foucault (God knows we bring him in enough already!), but there could also be some real power issues involved here. I have done a few projects with Vets in the past, and they can be sort of a disgruntled lot. They don’t get the respect that MDs get, but they go to school just as long. They have this stigma of being “almost doctors” much like in dentistry.

    Perhaps this method of speaking is a way of maintaining “control” of the conversation. In my observations of Vets (actually Vet techs, because you seldom get to see an actual Vet) they tend to talk past the patient (…the owner that is), an experience that is not unlike going to many doctors. The project that I was involved in dealt specifically with the issue of compliance–namely the fact that many pet owners tend to jump around from Vet to Vet a lot…why is that? Well, the ties that pet owners develop with their Vets may not be quite as binding as the ties we develop with our own doctors. We love our small animals, but do we really love them that much?

    There is also a relationship of mistrust that permeates our experiences with our vets…how do they come up with these prices after all? I was talking to one Vet who told me he typically divides his patietns into 3 groups–A,B,& C. He makes suggestions about treatment based on how likely he thinks the owner is willing to comply or “pay for” the treatment…with A being the best cased scenario and C being a little bit further down the socio-economic ladder.

    One coulad argue that these are all similar symptoms that we see with human doctors, but I think it is magnified to some degree with Vets. The bottom line is Vets have to be good salesman and good entertainers these days…it doesn’t take much for a pet owner to jump ship.

  9. liz

    I’m not a good case, because I’m friends with both my equine vet & my canine/feline vet, but….

    About 12 years ago my dear dog was diagnosed with a hard-to-treat cancer. We went through one cycle of treatment & then, the big decision. Do more? Or euthanize?

    The conversation with Dr. Dog had him asking a lot of rhetorical questions, the most poignant being, “Do I think you are a ‘bad owner’ if you decide to stop treatment?” “No, of course not.”

    Sometimes the rhetorical question is the best way to elucidate hidden topics.

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