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“I was always last to get a handshake. Uniforms first.” My civilian colleague, a professor, shakes his head. He has just attended a military exercise with a group of cadets.

“That’s what you get when you don’t wear your salary scale on your shoulders,” I say.

“Seems fitting for a former conscripted corporal,” another colleague says.

But despite our sarcastic comments, it’s obviously weird that such a high ranking civilian gets introduced last.

The Mentalist

Later that week I unexpectedly run into the same problem. I am working on a scenario for the American police series The Mentalist. The team from The Mentalist is composed of four agents and a civilian. The civilian is Patrick Jane, the title character. In my script Lisbon, the boss, introduces them all to the new sheriff. The question is: in what order does she do that?

I have no problem classifying the other agents in order of status: first the one who’s been acting chief before, Cho, then his partner Rigsby, next the rookie, Van Pelt. But what to do with Patrick Jane? This is the man who solves every case, but he’s also a civilian and therefore not part of the hierarchical police pecking order.  Should he be mentioned first? Or last? Or at least before Van Pelt, the rookie?

I watch a few episodes looking for a similar introduction. I can’t help smiling when I finally hear Lisbon say: “Meet Cho, Rigsby, Van Pelt and Jane”. So in American police circles it is also ‘uniforms first’.

We are all just like chickens.

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