Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht

May 14, 2011 | 20 comments
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potNow that I’ve moved to BYU-Idaho, I occasionally (read: yesterday) get asked interesting questions when I’m at professional conferences, like: “How are you adjusting to life without caffeine?”

To answer that question, I could have selected from a few different ways to bring the conversation to a sudden and awkward conclusion:

1. “In fact, the prohibition on caffeine is a folk doctrine (despite occasional statements by General Authorities to the contrary) that has entered the popular imagination, owing to what is an authoritative injunction against the consumption of coffee (including decaf) and tea (black and green, but not herbal). I believe the history of this teaching has been traced in a Dialogue article. Could I send you the bibliography?”

2. “While caffeinated drinks such as coffee and tea are proscribed, during my two-year missionary service I often accepted caffeinated cola drinks from generous people after I had declined their offers of wine, beer, and coffee. Would you like to know more about the missionary program of the church?”

3. “Oh, well, I sometimes still have caffeine. I know this might make me seem not so uptight as most Mormons, but sometimes I like to let it hang out a little.”

Instead, I opted for:

4. “I have only known life without caffeine.”

This proved to be a nice way to keep a pleasant and productive conversation from crashing to a halt. The main drawback of this response was that it wasn’t true. At that moment, I had a suitcase back in my room stuffed with some high-percentage chocolate containing appreciable amounts of caffeine.

(Kalamazoo has an Aldi, a discount grocery chain based in Germany that is a reliable source of excellent German chocolate at bargain prices, and we hadn’t seen one since moving west almost a year ago. So the day I arrived, I undertook a pilgrimage of two miles on foot to the store – but I felt as if I should have been on my knees, confessing along the way: ‘Yea, I have sinned the sin of ALBERTSONS against thee; lo, my heart hath gone after the strange idols of WALMART…’ I am now returning with a suitcase full of relics for my family. Aldi also had Nürnberger Bratwurst for sale, which I couldn’t cook and consume on the spot or bring back with me; sometimes relics cannot replace the real presence. Twice a store employee asked me how I was doing and I said ‘fine,’ when in fact I was having a quasi-religious experience. But I digress.)

For the truth of the matter is that neither I nor the person I was talking with were interested in moralized nutritional chemistry or in measuring my Mormonism by the microgram. Instead I wanted to indicate, simply and painlessly, that I happily self-identify as a Mormon, including with respect to the current boundary-markers of Mormonism. I sacrificed the smaller point to the cause of expressing a larger truth.

But I still feel uneasy about shaving corners off of complete accuracy, so if that person is ever curious if I have actually avoided all forms of caffeine, they can google me and find the truth, although the truth might make them flee.

20 Responses to Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht

  1. Mike S on May 15, 2011 at 12:08 am

    My response would have been: “We just don’t drink coffee or black tea, but otherwise there’s no real rule. And to be honest, I would probably have died without caffeine in medical school and residency, where 110+ hour weeks were the norm. Caffeine is my friend. :-)”

  2. jks on May 15, 2011 at 1:12 am

    I’m a stickler for honesty. I suggest you try something else sometime.
    If you really don’t want to get into the nitpicking caffeine rule/lack of rule then try to start the conversation that the innocent question was trying to start. Are they asking you if you like your new job? New environment? Working with Mormons? Not working with non-Mormons?
    Decide at that particular time whether you want to discuss the PROS or CONS. The sameness or the differences. And jump into that conversation..
    1. Actually, it’s the weather that I really have to try adjust to…….
    2. It’s weird to not have to turn down offers of coffee all the time anymore!
    But you don’t have to lie to get there. Just sidestep into something the person would understand or that you are actually interested in explaining. If you feel like a joke, make a joke. If you want to be serious, be serious.
    I am glad the dishonesty isn’t sitting well with you. It really is possible to be kind, thoughtful, funny, or anything else you want to be AND be honest.
    Good luck for next time!

  3. Hunter on May 15, 2011 at 1:16 am

    “But I still feel uneasy about shaving corners off of complete accuracy”

    Yeah, I feel this tension, too, but it comes up all the time, and not just in the situation you described. Sometimes, a simple “fine” is all people want to hear to their perfunctory “how ya doing?” I suppose if they want to know more, they’ll ask follow up questions, right?

    By the way, your list of ways to respond to the caffeine question was fun to read.

  4. Peter LLC on May 15, 2011 at 1:48 am

    What can you do? Die Katze lässt das Mausen nicht!

  5. Jeremy on May 15, 2011 at 3:19 am

    I would have said “No caffeine? Where the hell did you hear that?”

  6. Tim on May 15, 2011 at 6:09 am

    I’d probably respond with something like, “I’ve only known life without coffee.” It’s factually accurate, and there’s a very good chance it answers the question that’s really being asked (after all, most professionals I know don’t get their caffeine kick from other products).

    I live 3 miles from an Aldi. Next week it will be more like 830 miles. The local Aldi has lost some of its German flair over the past few months, substituting in some cases American favorites for German ones. But they still offer goodies no one else does. Aldi, I will miss thee.

  7. Sam B. on May 15, 2011 at 6:50 am

    I generally lead with the fact that I don’t drink high fructose corn syrup and don’t particularly like cola. Then the conversation turns toward Izzy’s and microbrew root beers, and everybody’s happy.

  8. ken maxwell on May 15, 2011 at 6:54 am

    Hi:
    Well its Sunday afternoon and here I sit in Bruschal Germany trying to find something interesting to do while my wife visits with her non Mormon family. We have been here for over a week and I really love it here but there in no Church (LDS) in the area so instead I just found this site and thought I would read a little bit. I have never hid the fact that I drink Caffine since I became active in church 35 years ago. When I got active and my wife joined the church I had to give up cigaretts, Coffee ans an occasional Beer so I dont think a pepsi now and then is going to hurt me.I have found that for me anyway being honest is the only way to live. an even bigger problem in my life is the fact that I dont try to hide the fact that I,m a Democrat. I hope this whole thing makes sense, I.m trying to type on a German Typewriter.
    Anyway I enjoyed your post.

  9. Eric Nielson on May 15, 2011 at 8:03 am

    I live in the Kalamazoo stake. I may have to check out the Aldi’s. I wonder if our paths crossed, but I don’t remember. Best of luck at BYU Idaho.

  10. Tim on May 15, 2011 at 8:10 am

    The Karlsruhe ward house isn’t terribly far from Bruchsal, if you’re there again next week. It’s an easy train ride (I took it several times as a missionary). And there are some great people in the ward.

  11. Jax on May 15, 2011 at 8:23 am

    I don’t drink Cola’s….never have…I just never liked the taste of Coke/Pepsi/Mnt Dew/Dr Pepper/ etc. I don’t even drink that much Sprite. So caffeine is no big deal…but CHOCOLATE? REALLY? You might as well cut off an appendage as to take away my M&M’s. Them’s is fightin’ words!

    Ken, I think Democrats should have to wear a sign stating that they are Dems. Not to single them out, but to make the Rep’s feel uncomfortable and learn to deal with a little contrary thought now and then.

  12. Dan on May 15, 2011 at 8:26 am

    I’d make some quip that I order my Dr Pepper from Amazon…

    in all honesty, I haven’t lived in Idaho, do the grocery stores there NOT sell caffeinated sodas?

  13. Ben on May 15, 2011 at 9:15 am

    As a French missionary who frequented Aldi, love the digression.

    What I find most interesting is trying to ascertain the assumptions behind the question. That you are non-LDS now living amongst the non-caffeinated? That you are LDS but no longer drink Coke since you’re at an LDS school?

  14. Jacob F on May 15, 2011 at 11:17 am

    Just pining for Aldi… oh, and your response was fine.

  15. psychochemiker on May 15, 2011 at 3:40 pm

    JAX. totally agree, but I think this accessory does it too, here .

  16. Mike S on May 15, 2011 at 5:21 pm

    Dan: They sell caffeinated sodas in grocery stores in Idaho. I think they actually sell wine in the grocery stores as well, but am not sure.

    I actually went to BYU and lived in Helaman Halls, so I assume the BYU-Idaho campus has the same “rules”, which is what the post suggests. On the BYU campus, they didn’t have any caffeinated soda. This included in the dining hall of Helaman Halls. In the little store by the dining hall, however, they sold both Vivirin and No-Doze (200mg and 100mg of caffeine – or the equivalent of 6 and 3 cans of Coke – respectively).

    One day, I asked the store manager why they sold those but I couldn’t buy a regular caffeinated soda. I was told that if “used correctly” those were medications, but sodas weren’t allowed.

    Hmmmmmm.

    BYU is a crazy place with myriad rules that make no sense and have no basis in reality. They all drove me crazy enough that after my mission, I gave up my scholarship and transferred somewhere else. (Go Utes!)

  17. Ardis E. Parshall on May 15, 2011 at 6:09 pm

    If BYU-I is, like BYU-U (truer than true and bluer than blue), maybe he was simply making a joke about the lack of caffeinated sodas available in campus vending machines, not assuming that you didn’t drink caffeine elsewhere or that caffeine was contra-WOW?

    I don’t like carbonated beverages, caffeine-free or not, but I think I’d be willing to drink a Coke if it were poured from that vessel in your illustration.

  18. Last Lemming on May 15, 2011 at 6:34 pm

    I will always associate Aldi with ultrahocherhitzt milk (gag), canned Polish beef, Thunfisch pikant, and Greek peaches with slivers of pit still in them. I couldn’t wait to get to the Kaufhof, where I could get Corn Flakes and bananas. I can get my Hit cookies at any grocery store, and my marzipan at Wegmans.

  19. Paul on May 16, 2011 at 10:39 am

    #17: LL, I’m with you. Aldi was never my favorite place to shop. I remember most the fish-oil margarine on pallets at the front of the store…. I have never entered the Aldi I pass some days on my way home from work in SE Michigan.

    Jonathan, appreciate the conundrum you face: how to answer a “church” question succintly, and when to know if more of an answer is required / desired.

  20. Adam Greenwood on May 16, 2011 at 11:12 am

    A sound approach. I always take the pedantic response to that question (usually with an overtone of being offended at their lack of knowledge of the minutia of my faith), but your way works too.

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