The Non-Expert

Many Miscellaneous Concerns

Experts answer what they know. The Non-Expert answers anything. This week we answer reader concerns, including the business with mattress tags and why, when in Greece, you might not want to signal to your waiter that you’re ready for the check.

Have a question? Need some advice? Ignored by everyone else? Send us your questions via email. The Non-Expert handles all subjects and is updated on Fridays, and is written by a member of The Morning News staff.


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As we near the end of the year, it’s time once again to empty out the Non-Expert’s mailbag. Imagine, a brand-new year, with brand-new questions, and brand-new (and very little) expertise… let’s go!

Question: I’m 25, and I still haven’t come out to my friends and family. I keep thinking, “enough already.” But how do I make the big announcement?—Michael

Answer: A touchy situation, for sure. To work around the possibility that you break the news and they completely lose their minds, why don’t you have a nice sit-down at the kitchen table with your parents and send the proverbial ball straight into their court? You say:

“So—mom, dad—which one of you is gay? Because I’d sure like to know who I got it from.”

That should do it.


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Question: People have been talking about it for a long time, but what’s the story behind that “do not remove” mattress label?—Dennis

Answer: For many years mattresses came with a tag affixed that warned, in large, threatening letters: “DO NOT REMOVE U.N.DER PENALTY OF LAW.” A lot of people—mainly standup comedians—thought this was really great stuff because, hey, it’s my mattress… How could you possibly arrest me for taking the tag off? And, by the way folks, how about airplane food? Is it the worst OR WHAT??!?

Mattress manufacturers, nearly bankrupt from funding private security armies to actually enforce their tag law, finally revised the tags to plainly inform, in large, comforting letters: “THIS TAG MAY NOT BE REMOVED EXCEPT BY THE CONSUMER.”

And sure, it saved the sleep industry, but, please, look what it did to comedy.

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Question: I eat a normal amount of food and I work out every day. But no matter how many stomach crunches I do, I can’t get rid of my love handles. What should I do?—Dean

Answer: Looking back at the history of weight loss and exercise, it’s pretty amazing to think how, when 30 years ago we would have suggested you take up that new cottage-cheese diet or 20 years ago we would have pointed you to an aerobics class, today we might advise you sign up for one of those reality makeover shows where they insert rubber abs into your stomach. It boggles the mind to imagine what new methods we’ll have in the future for losing weight…

All-protein cola… boggling.

Underwear with built-in bun-burners… boggling.

Holographic food that actually tastes decent… boggling.

But until then, don’t wear horizontal stripes.

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Question: I travel a lot, and I’ve heard about how regular American gestures can mean totally different things in other countries and can be offensive. Do you know where I should check for things to look out for?—Molly

Answer: Yes, it’s important to know that in other countries your slightest motion could be the difference between ordering another round of Sapporo or your waiter’s Ginsu-style execution. Here’s what we’ve learned in our travels:

—Vigorously shaking your head in Peru means “I’ll have the guinea pig, rare.”

—In Egypt, when you place an open hand over your mouth, you’re indicating a yawn, which means you’re so totally bored with this country and over it, which many locals may take the wrong way.

—Giving the “thumbs up” when in Italy means “Right on,” which, in Italian, means something completely unprintable.

—Never, ever, anywhere outside the U.S. use your fingers, in public, to scratch your bottom, pick at your scalp, or clean out your ear, because, even though it’s OK here, it’s actually gross.

—Smiling broadly in Cuba means “I flew from New York to the Bahamas, and then I flew into Havana from there. Please don’t tell anyone. Look! Dollars!”

—When you scratch your left cheek three times in Morocco, you’ve just made initial visual contact with your connection.


Andrew Womack is a founding editor of The Morning News. He is always working on the next installment of the Albums of the Year series at TMN. More by Andrew Womack