15

I've noticed some distinct hostility in general towards people with ASD in IPS.

While other marginalized groups are given a bit of deference and leeway, it seems that people with ASD are being jumped on and held accountable for things they cannot control.

Literalism is assumed to be rudeness and hostility. Precision of language is assumed to be deliberately harmful and we are being told to change our words.

One would think that a site dedicated to Interpersonal skills would be more accommodating to those whose very existence is defined by a distinct lack of them.

Several people who are also on the spectrum have approached me privately about IPS and their sentiments range from being uncomfortable to being simply afraid to post a question here for fear of the response they may get.

April is autism awareness month, and given it's crippling effect on interpersonal skills, one would have thought that this would have been addressed by this stack, but it has gone completely ignored.

Is this stack marginalizing people on the autism spectrum? What can we do to be more welcoming to the people who need this stack the most?

  • 18
    Can you give any examples (links to questions/answers, etc) that demonstrate, for example, a case where you are being told to change your words? And where literalism is assumed to be rudeness and hostility? It's much easier to understand when examples are supplied. – user6818 Apr 27 '18 at 18:37
  • 3
    @Stacey I'm not sure that any still exist at this point, as I know one person ended up deleting most of his posts out of frustration, and that others were in comments which have been swept away in mass deletions. – The Wraith Apr 27 '18 at 18:44
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    If you can approximate a couple of examples from memory, that would be very helpful to people who aren't sure what you mean but would like to help. Someone with high enough rep to see deleted Q/As (or a diamond mod who can also see deleted comments) might also be able to provide specific examples if you give an idea where to look. – 1006a Apr 27 '18 at 19:03
  • 6
    Quick suggestion: there have been a few questions lately saying "Is X group being treated poorly on IPS?" If you have experience with this kind of discrimination (which I'm sure you do), instead of asking if the discrimination exists, just say it does and ask what we can do. E.g. "How can we reduce the hostility towards those with ASD on ISP?" – BlackThorn Apr 27 '18 at 22:33
  • 5
    @BlackThorn I would rather not cast out a blanket accusation, as my perceptions could be wrong. If I did that, then the responses would all be geared towards affirming or denying the premise, where as a question opens a subject up for discussion – The Wraith Apr 30 '18 at 13:58
  • 2
    @Stacey I'm wondering why only people with Autism are being asked to provide proof, where with other marginalized groups, it's accepted with fact. I think this sort of supports my point. – The Wraith Apr 30 '18 at 17:23
  • 4
    @RichardU Do you have any examples of people on the spectrum being asked to provide proof? – Rainbacon Apr 30 '18 at 18:13
  • Only semi-related, but see my question – gparyani May 1 '18 at 2:50
22

This is not a complete answer by any means, but I would like to bring up a few points of discussion:

The majority of question, or question-askers, don't refer to autism/aspergers at all. The vast majority of the questions here do not indicate that they are asked by a person on the autism spectrum. For example, 21 questions in total are tagged autism, and the search term autism brings up 161 results (some of which are duplicates). Of the 1770 questions on this site, it is a very small sample of data with which to work. The term Asperger returns even fewer numbers.

As such, we have no way of knowing which questions were asked by people who are on the spectrum unless they tell us.

We can't assume that a literally-worded or awkwardly-worded question is written by a person on the spectrum. As someone who is on the spectrum, I take extra time and effort to write my questions and answers as thoroughly and clearly as possible because I know that I am lacking in that skill. We can't assume that every well-worded question is written by a neurotypical person. There are many people on the spectrum with many different strengths and weaknesses and to assume that someone is/isn't neurotypical based on their question/answer isn't giving them enough credit.

This site gets a lot of traffic from people who don't know how it works. Either from the HNQ list, or from other people expecting it to be a forum (and treating it as such) when it's not. More visitors every day is immediately going to increase the number of lower-quality questions from people who simply have never been here before and don't know that this place is different.

Yes, there are issues here of moderation. It is a difficult site. Since this site is interpersonal (and not a hard science), the open/close criteria are a lot more fuzzy than on other sites. What is on/off topic is not as clearly nailed down and a lot more subjective and open to opinion. Additionally, the moderators are very busy and struggling to keep up. There is a lot of comment traffic. We see a lot of complaints about comments being deleted and things being closed unfairly.

New visitors (in general) are going to have a difficult time understanding how the site works and fitting in. They may not understand why their comment was deleted, or why their question was closed, or why it was edited so drastically. I personally have myself felt a bit hurt and confused when my comment (that I so carefully mulled over to write my opinion) was deleted by someone else. Did anyone even care to read it? Who knows. Even now, having been around for a while, there are times when I still don't understand why questions are closed. Even the higher-rep people here seem divided in their opinion. What chances do the new users have?

Is IPS hostile? Yes. Is it hostile particularly to people on the autism spectrum? I don't know. Maybe? Perhaps people on the spectrum will have more difficulty fitting in than neurotypicals. However, it seems like in general, new users have a difficult time understanding this place as it is, judging by the number of meta questions about comments getting deleted and questions getting closed. Since we simply don't know who is on the spectrum unless they tell us, and we don't know what their strengths and weaknesses are, I don't know. Autism covers an insanely large base of people with wide varieties of skills. Maybe probably they do find it difficult to fit in, but more than others? I don't know.

This is one of the reasons I asked for examples. If there are particular cases that demonstrate an autistic person having difficulty where a neurotypical wouldn't, then that would make it easier to distinguish between the two. But as it stands, this place is pretty hostile to everyone.

These issues do need to be sorted out. We do need to figure out how to address the hostility this site has toward all new users in general. Unfortunately it is a pretty complex problem and will probably take some time for the site to get to a place where it can deal with these issues.

  • 4
    "Is IPS hostile? Yes." I haven't been that active lately, but I'm genuinely surprised by that. I'll go read some recent posts. – SQB Apr 30 '18 at 14:30
  • 1
    @SQB it seems to me that this answer provides a pretty clear picture of the "hostility" or generally speaking aspects that could be improved quite a lot. – Andrea Lazzarotto Apr 30 '18 at 15:03
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    @SQB I suppose it's a good idea to clarify what I mean by hostility in my answer. In this case, I'm talking about actions that the moderators/site policies (bots, flags, other users) take that cause anger/confusion for new users. For example, if a new user posts a comment that gets deleted, or a question gets closed. Looking at the meta search for deleted makes this clear: interpersonal.meta.stackexchange.com/search?q=Deleted – user6818 Apr 30 '18 at 15:16
  • 2
    It is very clear that the current policies don't adequately explain to new users why their posts are being deleted without explanation or or even consistency. – user6818 Apr 30 '18 at 15:18
  • Ah, right. That's what @AndreaLazzarotto means as well, probably. I've never thought about that. – SQB Apr 30 '18 at 15:28
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    @SQB yes, especially when Stacey mentions "without [...] even consistency". IMHO the inconsistency (or different treatment of their comments/posts) does not confuse only new users but also those who are accustomed to other SE sites with more consistent policies. – Andrea Lazzarotto Apr 30 '18 at 16:20
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    @AndreaLazzarotto our 'policies' aren't so much inconsistent, it's the fact that e.g. so many new people come in (through HNQ) being unaware of the policies, that this site's userbase is sometimes struggling to keep up with all of it ;-) Have you seen Staceys new meta post? She's got a great point on the flagging: The only way our policies can be consequently enforced is if we have enough people flagging stuff and voting to close/delete on posts. – Tinkeringbell Apr 30 '18 at 16:34
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    @Tinkeringbell I have seen several cases where comments asking for clarification from the OP get deleted before OP provides the needed clarification, but sometimes other less useful comments remain because somebody decided they are worth it. How is flagging going to help? It's too discretionary and if the flag is received by the same person who got to decide the clarifications were "irrelevant" they are not going to have any effect. – Andrea Lazzarotto Apr 30 '18 at 16:38
18

I was diagnosed as being "mild to moderately autistic" when I was 29, despite this I've been the top scoring user on the site for some time now.

For the most part I've found IPS to be a pretty welcoming community for those on the spectrum. Questions tagged as autism/Asperger's related don't seem to draw an awful lot of abuse from what I've seen and experienced answering those questions.

On the other hand I have seen a handful of times where users have used the word "autistic" as a slur on unrelated posts. These derogatory uses seem to get flagged and removed pretty quickly. That's not saying that we're perfect, or that offense isn't caused, but people seem to immediately recognize it as rude and flag it for removal.


There is something of a side issue here that I think ought to be addressed... Literalism, percision of language, theory of mind, and some of the common symptoms of autism have at times been used as an excuse for pedantry, rules lawyering, and an assumption of "emotion free logic". Which I think, if we're being completely honest, isn't great.

Being autistic doesn't make one free of emotional responses, it just makes one respond a little differently. And admittedly, at times, it can make it a little harder for some of us to read and understand the emotional responses of others.

To use a pop culture example, we're not Vulcans. We don't have a perfectly logical, emotion free perspective. So let's try to keep that in mind when we're interacting with the neurotypical crowd and with each other...

I guess I'm trying to say that being autistic may be a reason for some behaviors, but it needn't be an excuse. Literalism sometimes does cross the line into rudeness. Precision of language, can inadvertently cross the line as well. And if we're really being completely honest, I think we'd both admit that we've seen times where people want to be really very precise about some kinds of language, and not others... When it's purely aspie language issues it usually doesn't have as much of a bias. When it's aspie language issues mixed with bias, or if language issues are being used to explain away a bias, that's not great.

  • 2
    See, that's part of the problem I see, going right to the assumption that it's an excuse. If someone is having difficulty going up a flight of stairs because they were in a wheelchair, would you say they were just using the wheelchair as an excuse, or would you help them? – The Wraith Apr 30 '18 at 14:01
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    @RichardU If you see someone in a wheelchair, you know to help them. Here, we have no idea if someone is on the spectrum or not (unless they tell us), and we can't assume they are or are not based on their words. I make a point to not tell people I'm on the spectrum specifically because I don't want to be treated any differently than anyone else. I want to be treated the same. I am expected to function in this world just like anyone else. – user6818 Apr 30 '18 at 19:15
  • 8
    @RichardU Context matters. – apaul Apr 30 '18 at 19:48
  • @Stacey yeah and you should be treated with respect, regardless. This is the issue raised in the meta question. – Andrea Lazzarotto May 2 '18 at 23:14
  • 1
    @RichardU If someone were trying to get up a flight of stairs in a wheelchair of course I'd do everything I could to help them up the stairs, but I'd also help them find an elevator for next time. I think there's a big difference between suggesting a solution which requires some effort from someone with a condition and suggesting that they're simply using their conditions as an excuse. – Lord Farquaad May 3 '18 at 14:10
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    @RichardU Keep in mind this is a Q&A website. The answers don't change. You're not going to get anywhere asking people for running techniques if you have no legs. If people want autism-specific advice, they can use the appropriate tag and include it in the question. This might be a good start, but ultimately overcoming involuntary actions is not something internet strangers can cure. Of course rude comments and suggestions of faking should be deleted. And it seems they are, so I don't see the problem. – Clay07g May 3 '18 at 17:46
10

Is this stack marginalizing people on the autism spectrum?

I have not seen the members of the stack intentionally marginalizing people on the spectrum. Being on the autism spectrum myself, I tend to look out for this kind of behavior and I have not personally experienced any bias due to my autism while on this stack. However, the common autistic traits you have mentioned are often seen as being rude by people who are neurotypical.

Recent research shows that 1 child in every 59 is born on the autism spectrum. When coupled with the fact that autistic people have one of the lowest employment rates of any disability, the odds that a given neurotypical person has much experience interacting with people on the spectrum is low. It's to be expected that people who have little experience with people on the spectrum will not be skilled at interacting with them and may inadvertently marginalize them.

What can we do to solve the problem

You asked

What can we do to be more welcoming to the people who need this stack the most?

There are two immediate steps to this.

  1. Realize that most of the people doing this are doing so because they don't know any better rather than doing it maliciously
  2. Enlighten them rather than condemning them

Some users here have consistently shown that they can be kind and understanding about interactions involving people on the spectrum, which gives us a great set of tools to explain to people why their behavior might be seen as hostile by someone on the spectrum.

As Stacey said, IPS is hostile to all new users, not just the ones with autism. This is where the be nice policy comes in quite handy. Specifically the part where it mentions

Be welcoming, be patient, and assume good intentions.

Being welcoming and patient are two things that will improve the experience for all newcomers, including those on the autism spectrum. It's important to remember that people posting questions here are doing so because there are interpersonal skills that they lack. Due to the subjective nature of IPS, it is important that we be more welcoming and patient with new users than other sites on the network. If the frequent users of the site don't appear to have good interpersonal skills, how can anyone trust the content that gets posted here?

Ways to be more welcoming and patient

For people writing questions: Don't just down/close vote and walk away. If you see a question that is off topic, suggest specific improvements for how to get it on topic. Invite new users to chat and talk through how to best write their question with them.

For people writing answers: To be honest, this is an area of being welcoming that I'm still not sure how to approach. I hope another answer is able to articulate good ways to be more welcoming to new users posting poor answers, but I don't believe that I can.

6

This may be a teachable moment for both sides.

This is a bit long, but hopefully it will provide some mutual insight.

Literalism is assumed to be rudeness and hostility.

I agree that this is often the case.

For people with ASD, it is helpful to remember that neurotypical people speak "loosely" (i.e., non-literally) quite often. Intentional literalism is often a form of passive-aggressiveness or malicious compliance, and it usually implies hostility toward the target. This often leads to neurotypical people showing a heightened sensitivity to literalist interactions.

In your case, if your intentions are often misinterpreted, it may help to either ask "Is there something I'm missing here?" or to explicitly indicate you are on the spectrum. This will usually prompt neurotypical people to drop their sensitivity to subtext.

For others, it is helpful to remember that people will misunderstand context and metaphors sometimes---not just those with ASD, but also non-native speakers and people raised in different cultures. If the question allows for a person to be genuinely unaware of the context, give them the benefit of the doubt. Be polite, provide the missing context succinctly, and raise any questions about their motivations tactfully.

Precision of language is assumed to be deliberately harmful and we are being told to change our words.

This is often true, and the reason for it says a lot about neurotypical people.

Communication usually involves more than just the literal meaning of the words. This is how things work most of the time in neurotypical social contexts. With some exceptions such as legal and technical documents, it could be considered the default condition for neurotypical communication.

When neurotypical people perceive language as being overly precise for the situation, they assume there is a relevant subtext they must discover.

If people are assuming your language is harmful or hostile, that is something you should know and consider. Polite education or correction is appropriate so that you do not hurt somebody, which can happen regardless of whether you intend to. This applies to everyone who writes a question, ASD or not. Virtually everyone has used hurtful language unintentionally, considerate people try to avoid hurting others, and education is the best way of achieving that goal.

That said, there is an important distinction between telling someone his behavior is rude and calling him a rude/bad person. Answerers should treat the askers as considerate and well-intentioned people unless there is good cause to believe otherwise. Based on my experience to date, failure to behave this way should result in negative votes and/or removal anyway.

One would think that a site dedicated to Interpersonal skills would be more accommodating to those whose very existence is defined by a distinct lack of them.

There will be some practical limitations. Answerers are likely to assume the asker is neurotypical. This site is not restricted to experts, so answerers may not understand exactly what ASD means in relation to IPS.

Neurotypical people without training will have trouble providing answers in some cases; these people may have trouble understanding the challenge behind the question, or they may be unable to formulate an answer that the asker will understand and accept. A forum specifically focused on ASD socialization may be better in those cases.

Disclosing a medical diagnosis is always a personal choice, but in these cases it may be beneficial. It will likely filter out responses from people who feel they cannot respond effectively, and it may elicit interest from people with relevant experience who might otherwise decline to answer.

3

While it seems to me like there are additional hurdles to using this site while being on the autism spectrum, I don't think autistic individuals are being singled out.

I am not an expert on the difficulties faced by people on the spectrum, so I'm basing this off the information you are providing in your question. If I get anything incorrect, please point it out to me and I'll be happy to revise my answer.

Unlike Stack Overflow where you don't need to be a programmer to ask programming questions, you do need to have some interpersonal skills to ask interpersonal questions on this site. Sometimes knowing the right question to ask is more important than knowing the answer to the question. It's pretty hard to figure that out without already having decent interpersonal skills.

Part of the reason that the specific problems you mentioned, literalism, and a focus on precise language, are met with hostility is that they can be used maliciously to derail conversations. It can be hard to tell whether someone is asking a question in good faith or whether they're just trolling. Sidetracking a conversation into a debate over the semantics of a statement is a common technique used to argue in poor faith.

Another contributing factor is that there's a differing context for conversations between new members and the regulars who they are talking to. It may be the first time they are hearing that comments aren't for discussion but mods are shutting down a conversation in comments almost every day. It's easy for the regulars of a site to be pretty tired of explaining the same things over and over again. This leads to a less personal and more abrasive approach than is ideal.

I think it's important for established members to try to resist the burnout and approach new people hitting the same stumbling blocks that everyone on a stack exchange site encounters with empathy and compassion rather than frustration. When commenting try to focus less on what not to do and more on how to improve a post, or be a better member of this site. We're can't preemptively dismiss someone as a troll the first time they step out of line. We need to set a good example for new members of the site, field their questions with the assumption that they are being asked in good faith, and whenever possible tell people how they can improve, rather than what they are doing wrong.

If the OP, or anyone else on the autism spectrum, can identify specific areas that they notice that people on the spectrum are encountering problems to ask questions on the main site about how to navigate these situations, so that people looking for help have resources tailored to the sorts of specific issues that they face.

-4

Is this stack marginalizing people on the autism spectrum?

Not knowingly, I am sure.

In my personal experience IPS is one of the fairest, most helpful and and most welcoming websites on the Stack Exchange network.[1]

However, this site about interpersonal skills depends so heavily on those very same interpersonal skills for "properly" asking and answering questions, and for internal communication in chat and comments. Users are held to such a high standard of interpersonal skills in routine interaction that only those who are interpersonally skilled can achieve the best "expected" performance here. That means that people on the autism spectrum and other interpersonally less-talented persons like myself are working at an automatic disadvantage.

It is not necessarily the fault of the site. The Olympics encourage universal participation but people lacking innate athletic excellence are bound to struggle to qualify for the highest levels.

What can we do to be more welcoming to the people who need this stack the most?

A certain element of misunderstanding occurs because users may not really know which other users are autistic. If a member is willing to say early on that they are on the autism spectrum, then I expect other members to be willing to make sufficient leeway for literalism and be not just tolerant but supportive of other autistic traits. If that member still experiences an element of hostility then please feel free to say so in comments!


[1] Notable comment in response (extract) from a most fair-minded moderator:

IPS is, network wide, considered a "problematic" site. This site is not the fairest, most helpful and welcoming site on this network... yet. We can be aspirational but we're not there. – Catija♦

  • 1
    See, that's the ablist viewpoint I'm speaking to. You don't see the problem because you don't live with the difficulties. Most people on the spectrum are not as... assertive as I am. This is not a friendly place for people with ASD – The Wraith Apr 27 '18 at 17:51
  • 7
    I'm really sorry but if you say this: IPS is one of the fairest, most helpful and and most welcoming websites on the Stack Exchange network. within a week of 1. apaul's leaving post and 2. the recent discussion going on across the network... I think you're missing a lot of the problems. IPS is, network wide, considered a "problematic" site. This site is not the fairest, most helpful and welcoming site on this network... yet. We can be aspirational but we're not there. – Catija Apr 27 '18 at 18:00
  • @Catija I am editing part of your important comment into my answer. – English Student Apr 27 '18 at 18:09
  • 1
    " This is not a friendly place for people with ASD " __ Thanks for saying that authoritatively @Richard U. That makes it a lot more convincing than asking the question "is this site hostile" -- I am most willing to take it as your expert opinion. – English Student Apr 27 '18 at 18:17
  • Unfortunately, I have to agree with @Catija's comment :(( lately, this site has not only attracted a huge amount of bad "debate", comments and answers, it has also an increased number of "rough" (in the sense of "not so nice" but I lack the proper word in English) persons... – OldPadawan Apr 27 '18 at 18:24
  • I should perhaps not have phrased it as strongly as that, but I am not good with subtlety, and it should be a question, not a statement. – The Wraith Apr 27 '18 at 18:26
  • @OldPadawan I have noticed a rather dramatic rise in nastiness. In the first two years at TWP, I had raised fewer than 400 flags, This year, I raised over 200 in just over 2 months, it does seem to be a site-wide problem, but more focused here. – The Wraith Apr 27 '18 at 18:28
  • Since the offending posts get removed so fast and efficiently, many ordinary users like me may not even see the problem @Richard U. Whereas Catija sees it all as a moderator. So I thought the site was OK. However I am not sure that drive-by intolerance from random non-regular members can be considered characteristic of the site itself. Do you think many regular members are also hostile to autism spectrum? – English Student Apr 27 '18 at 18:37
  • 5
    I will point out that, as someone on the ASD spectrum, I find I am more diligent and careful with my words because I know that this particular area is lacking. I put a lot of time and effort into my answers and my word choice as a result. I'd be hesitant to assume that everyone well spoken is neurotypical and everyone not well spoken is on the spectrum. – user6818 Apr 27 '18 at 18:42
  • And would you agree that the site is hostile to autism spectrum @Stacey? – English Student Apr 27 '18 at 19:01
  • @EnglishStudent I'm writing an answer with my opinion. – user6818 Apr 27 '18 at 19:01
  • 2
    Ironically, as someone on the spectrum, I have noticed almost no hostility directed at my methods of communication... aside from that coming from other users who have indicated at various points that they are also on the spectrum. Richard U included. – Beofett Apr 28 '18 at 14:39
  • Thanks for the insight @Beofett. All members on the spectrum should contribute their own perception on this matter so that we can all get an accurate picture of the situation. – English Student Apr 28 '18 at 14:47
-4

I don't think I ever answered or commented about a question related to autism. And the reason is that I have no idea about it. I know the word, and that's about it.

I mention this here because I am sure lots of people know (almost) nothing about autism. Maybe they saw Forest Gump and that's it.

I guess if people seem to be hostile the reason will be often that the people are just don't know any better.

  • There's debate on whether Forrest Gump is autistic. Autism isn't in the book or movie, and while some traits fit others don't. – cactus_pardner Apr 28 '18 at 21:54
  • That might prove your point further, though, that many people are unaware of autism, and that it manifests in many different ways. – cactus_pardner Apr 28 '18 at 21:55
  • 2
    @cactus_pardner: Thanks for your comment. I think autism is just one of many "conditions". I think most of us are only aware of many "conditions" if friends or family are involved. Same with drugs, sects, and and and. – user8838 Apr 29 '18 at 5:26
-7

Is IPS hostile towards people with autism?

No, IPS is hostile towards all people who do not have a certain mindset.

IPS favors rules over contend.

See this answer for example

Basically anyone who has trouble sticking to a certain form has problem here. May it be due to a different communication style, poor language-skills (a lot are non-natives), or a certain condition.

  • 1
    I'm kind of (not really?) surprised... As the one who wrote this answer, I find the meaning of "hostile" thrown in my face :/ Because I do my best to welcome people, like many many of us here. To welcome ALL people. But I do it, like many others, within a set of rules that are here to help, not to discriminate/eliminate. These rules are meant to be fair to everybody. By letting some people overtake them, we might open the Pandora's box. Result? a perfect mess... 1/2 – OldPadawan May 2 '18 at 10:21
  • 1
    2/2 imagine IPS as a big restaurant. Different areas (for children / smokers / old / deaf... many many different kind of persons). Each area has some problems that can be discussed. Each area has many experts that can help/serve/wait on you. BUT: before you enter, while waiting outside, you can read some basic stuff like: 1. don't talk too loud 2. don't bother other people 3. don't dance on tables 4. don't throw food around... and so on. Come in, you're welcome, but please respect those rules, because they were set to welcome all people in a nice atmosphere. That's the idea :) – OldPadawan May 2 '18 at 10:25
  • Currently it feels more like the waiters randomly gag some people with duct-tape because their statements where not asking for clarification of a menu item. – user6109 May 2 '18 at 10:37
  • 1
    I'll have to think more deeply about what you just said... and capture the essence of it. right now, I'm puzzled, because I was thinking of waiters that could duct-tape the guy sitting next table and bothering you while you order of someone at your table asks for clarification of a menu item. Seems like many of us don't see the shoe with the same "proper" colour :) don't you think? – OldPadawan May 2 '18 at 11:52

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