They’d reached the diner. Emma followed Ghada to a corner booth, and they ordered coffee and cake.
“Every profession has a nick-name,” Emma argued.
“Maybe, but no one calls the Surgeon General here the ‘Quack-in-Chief’, or the Attorney General the ‘Shyster-in-Chief’. So why does your President refer to her Nobel-prize-winning Energy Secretary as ‘Poopy-head-in-Chief’?”
“If that’s too undignified for you,” Emma asked irritably, “what do they call people who do science in Egypt? ‘Masters of the Universe’? ‘Philosopher Kings’?”
“‘Scientists’,” Ghada replied. “Literally. We’ve taken to using the English word, since it seems to have dropped out of favour in the West. ‘Geek’, ‘nerd’, ‘poopy-head’, ‘snot-face’ … these aren’t words in any adult’s vocabulary. To use them at all is a concise confession by the speaker that, linguistically, they’ve never left kindergarten — but it’s only in the most damaged cultures that people are required to pretend that they’re anything other than infantile jibes. Every time you answer to a label like that, you’re just normalising and internalising your society’s pathological anti-intellectualism.”
Emma bristled. “So now the country you claim to be indebted to is ‘pathological’?”
“It wasn’t always this way,” Ghada stressed. “But it’s a long, sad fall from The Feminine Mystique and The Pleasure of Finding Things Out to The Poopy-head Manifesto and Yes, I Have Girl Cooties, You Wanna Make Something Of It?”
Emma hadn’t heard of the first two books, but Google knew her well enough to track down the authors and then send her to SmugClub.com. “Richard Feynman spent time in topless bars. Betty Friedan never acknowledged her white, middle-class heterosexual privilege. Some heroes you’ve got.”
“I have no heroes,” Ghada said flatly. “But I can recognise a culture in decline when I see it. America is now what anthropologists call a Kardashian Type Three civilisation: more than fifty percent of GDP is in the attention economy.”
“And it’s ‘Grrl Cooties’, not ‘Girl Cooties’. G-double-R-L. When we spell it that way it makes us powerful.”
Ghada seemed to be struggling not to burst out laughing. “God help us all. So why did you apply for the scholarship, if you’re so deliriously happy here?”
Emma had no answer. “You just hate our freedoms,” she said. “That’s why you’re here, spreading hate.”
Ghada no longer looked amused. “It’s your friends who are lamenting your decline. Your enemies are the ones standing back in silence, waiting for you to choke to death on your own vomit.”