I hope somebody has already told you that Mensans are not as you would expect them to be. If not, let me tell you: Mensans are not as you would expect them to be. Most Mensans are not eggheads, but some are. Most Mensans have a normal social life, except for the ones who haven’t been out of their rooms in twenty years. Mensans are usually bright, except for the ones who are airheads, and are usually charming, except for the jerks.
Just what is a typical Mensan like? I don’t know. I’ve been with this group for more than 25 years and I still can’t figure it out. All I can say is, you should expect something bigger than life. Even the shy ones have bigger-than-life shyness.
Mensa’s inexplicability is easily explained. A sociologist might refer to our group as a self-atomizing association. This means that individuality is encouraged and highly prized. Sayings like “Don’t rock the boat” and “Follow the leader” might as well be in a foreign language for all the good they do us. This makes Mensa fun to be in, but hard to describe.
However, preparing you for the eccentricities of Mensans is my task and I may as well do my best.
TRIVIAL GALOOTS. In a conversation among Mensans, someone is bound to say some-thing like, “Ch’eng-tu is the capital of Szechwan province in China, isn’t it?” New members might interpret this as showing off. Undoubtedly, there are times when it is, but in most Mensan conversations it means the same as “Nice day, isn’t it?” It’s a way of getting into the conversation and staying in. The only real difference between “Nice day” and “Ch’eng-tu ...” is that the latter has to be apropos to the conversation. If it’s not, you’ll get strange looks, even in Mensa.
THE PUN AND ONLY. Not all Mensans are good punsters (a lot of people think “good punster” is a contradiction in terms, any-way), but puns tend to fly thick and heavy at some of our meetings. Conversation is the cornerstone of Mensa, words are an element of which conversation is made, and punning is a way of having fun with words, so naturally we pun. If you don’t like puns, you should find subgroups in Mensa where puns are uncommon or banned. Speaking for myself, however, I find banned puns very musical.
Yes, I know. I’ll quit now.
WHO WAS THAT STRANGE MENSAN I SAW YOU WITH LAST NIGHT? Remember what I said about self-atomizing association? Some Mensans take their individuality to an extreme. Their heads are filled with strange ideas and their lives filled with strange hobbies. Many are this way simply because they want interesting lives, but some are really nuts. Even allowing for those who are only pleasantly nutty, that still leaves a small handful of annoying persons.
How do you handle annoying Mensans? The same way you handle normal people who annoy. If the person is a real jerk, you get away from him. Don’t apologize, don’t make excuses. Just get your feet moving and go to the other side of the room. Sticking around will only encourage him. If, however, the person is polite but weird, a low-key approach is called for. You listen politely for a few minutes, then make some excuse like running out of dip. Then you walk away.
Or you might decide that you like these people after all, that they can provoke a thought or a laugh. As the old saying goes, you won’t know if you like it until you try it.
DUH ... Often a new member will spend the first hours of the first meeting waiting for something intellectual to happen. Sure, the conversation has been intelligent so far, except for the parts that were goofy, but none of the really great questions of philosophy, science, and religion were even hinted at. Don’t smart people think about such things?
Sure they think about such things, but not all the time. You must remember that some of us have intellectual jobs and would rather give the brain a rest in the evening. Remember also that Mensa is a social organization. Great questions make for poor social speech.
Yet sometimes, in spite of ourselves, an intellectual conversation breaks out.
The equipment is there and sometimes it gets used. The secret is to be there when it happens. If you go to First Friday or some of our other meetings, you can usually scare up a few people who enjoy intellectualism. Expect to put effort into finding these folks and, once you have found them, don’t expect them to always be in the mood. You’ll have better luck if you watch the Mensagenda calendar page and go to meetings that interest you. On the national level, the Mensa Bulletin publishes a monthly column on Special Interest Groups and also publishes a complete list of nationally recognized SIGs twice a year.
Good luck, and I hope that Mensa has what you’re looking for.