Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Being an English Major in the World

As a former English major (I graduated in May), I have experienced a good amount of conflict over my chosen course of study both internally and externally.  What can you do with a degree in English? is a question often posed, often accompanied by a general lack of respect for the liberal arts.  It is also often written off as frivolous, including by me.  Don't get me wrong - I love literature and do think that it is incredibly significant, but sometimes I feel like it hasn't prepared me to really accomplish anything of tangible value in the world.  I'm sure many of you in the book blogging community have had similar doubts and encountered similar doubters, or at least can understand what I'm saying.

To switch gears for a minute: Shop Rite, a local grocery store, offers its customers a free turkey if they spend $300 in the month preceding Thanksgiving.  I remember when they started this program; I was about eight years old and my mother collected something like seven free turkeys that year.  Possibly entirely due to her (and her family of five food-lovers), they began imposing limits in the following years.  When I became a vegetarian and entirely responsible for feeding myself, I was disappointed to learn that there was no veg-friendly alternative to the turkey and that, as a vegetarian, I did not get the same perks as meat-eaters.  In fact, last year I even considered writing a letter but settled for complaining loudly in the store.  About a month ago, I discovered in the circular that this year, they would be offering a Tofurky feast as an alternative for us meat-abstainers.  Though I've never had Tofurky, I was so excited!  Free things, yay!

Despite the fact that I live about a block from another grocery store, I began exclusively shopping at Shop Rite and, on Monday, hit the $300 goal (I was surprised to learn that I only spent $300 on food in one month, even with having thrown a dinner party for eight).  I proudly marched over to the meat department, a mysterious and ominous place, to collect my feast only to learn, to my great chagrin, that they were out.  Great.  But never fear, a shipment is coming on Tuesday!  Come collect your feast then!  Being without unlimited cars at my disposal, I didn't make it there until about 7.30 this morning (Wednesday).  I clutched my pink reusable grocery bag, marched myself back over there, and (it gets worse this time) found cornish hens in the Tofurky slot.  Really, guys?  Apparently, the promised delivery never came.

I went to customer service and asked for a raincheck (which they offer to customers when they're out of advertised sale items) and was told no, there are no rainchecks on promotional items.  By the way, the promotion ends tomorrow and I'll be damned if I'm humping my way over there on Thanksgiving day.  So I was patient.  I took some time before launching my attack.  I grabbed a circular and read the fine print this time.  This is what I found:
No rainchecks for specific brands/weights will be issued if product within the same brand/weight range is available.
Clearly this statement says that rainchecks will be offered if product within the same brand/weight range is not available because rainchecks will only not be available if the product is available, i.e. my Tofurky isn't there so give me my damned raincheck.  The guy at customer service was baffled by this wordplay and went to get the bookkeeper.  She was rather obstinate.  I wanted to shout at her, "I'm an English major, lady!   And I read the fine print!"  I mean, come on now.  I spent four years analyzing language, I think that I can accurately cipher the fine print regarding a free Tofurky.  Despite my righteous anger, I was also delighted to realize that hey, that English major was useful!

Sadly, the bookkeeper was not impressed by my ability to untangle the many complexities of the English language.  However, she was impressed at my demand to speak to a manager (for whom I was already planning to design several word maps providing incontrovertible proof that I was, in fact, deserving of a raincheck for a free Tofurky), at which point a hidden Tofurky was uncovered and I left, happy as a soy clam.  It was like the miracle of the loaves and the tuna-free fishes.

Yes, I know that being an English major isn't what got me a Tofurky; rather, it was my unrelenting pursuit of justice.  But I like to that that it is my skill as parsing text that fueled my righteous indignation and, accordingly, really had everything to do with it.

  • How do you use your English major in the real world (outside of being an English teacher/writer/editor)?
  • Am I justified in thinking that this is some sort of plot to undermine vegetarians and/or turkeys?  Because come on now, there were turkeys all over that store yet they only stocked about four Tofurkies (not including the secret hidden Tofurkies saved for angry vegetarians).
PS. I'm sorry if I you're annoyed that I just made you sit through five moments of nonsense for what promised to be an illuminating nugget of truth on the state of being a former English major, but I spent the whole ride whole from the grocery store (Tofurky in tow) drafting this and I wasn't about to just get rid of it when I realized that it was absolutely ridiculous.
PPS. I'll go toe to toe with you on bird law too.
PPPS. Man I hope this Tofurky is good.


  1. This was about 1000x more interesting than my day. Way to stick it to the man!

    I also appreciated the fine print at the bottom. THE IRONY WAS NOT LOST ON ME.


    " I wanted to shout at her, "I'm an English major, lady! And I read the fine print!""


  2. I love this story. You're such a smartie!

  3. one my (vegetarian) friends said, "tofurkey plays such a huge role in my life and yet it's never good." obviously this is still cracking me up since i've saved that line to pull out at moments like this one... but i'm glad you got yours.

    i'm creeping up on three years out of college. i think the most important thing we all realize a couple years after graduation is that your major doesn't matter in the real world, at least when we're talking liberal arts. which isn't to say that your english major isn't going to help you get a job, say as an administrative assistant (speaking from experience...sigh), but that it won't make any difference whether you are an english major, a communications major, a psych major, when you're applying for those types of jobs.

    also, why are people always so down on english majors? i am always hearing about the pointlessness of it, or how english majors strip the joy from reading. it's a tough world for us vegetarian english majors, right?

    (this whole comment has been an effort to avoid detailing how my english major hasn't helped me in the real world, but i do teach english as a foreign lang.)

  4. Your question about what do with a BA in English is one I've considered quite a few times. I loved what I studied but after graduating 3 years ago I'm still not so sure what my English degree can do for me. I'm still looking though but if you figure out something, please let me know!

    Also, if you aren't familiar with Avenue Q check out the lyrics to the song "What Do You Do with a BA in English?"

  5. Ellen: Yay, more vegetarian English majors! We really need to form a club. :] I'm cooking up the Tofurkey tonight…I hope it's good!

    Red: One of the things I WANTED to do with my English major was work in publishing. Sadly, nobody in publishing wants to hire ME.