Several weeks ago, after my last class, I walked to the bus stop as I customarily do a couple of times a week. With the bus waiting post and the surrounding space in sight, something unusual caught my attention. My vision caught what appeared to be another human being patiently awaiting the next bus. This seemed a bit unusual…as most days I’m the only one waiting at that particular stop. As I approached, my eyes focused in on an extremely relaxed looking individual – ash blonde hair tightly pulled back beyond the face and wrapped into a neat frizzy bouncing ball – who stood beneath the bus post sign. Although still technically winter at the time, it appeared temperatures had sufficiently risen to offer a warm enough climate for this individual to don khaki shorts and a non-adorned sweatshirt/hoodie. As I glanced down, I noticed the feet were bare – shoeless. The image in front of me appeared a bit angelic – familiar in a way. Suddenly, I remembered those mystical portraits representing Jesus that had caught my eye in the past. We waited side-by-side. As the bus approached, a look that could melt butter came over this individual’s face as he deeply gestured for me to board ahead of him. Once seated mid-bus, my ears picked-up on a conversation that had ensued between the driver and this cherubic passenger.
DRIVER: “You CAN’T board the bus without shoes.”
PASSENGER: “I don’t have shoes; and I’ve ridden other buses today and in the past.”
DRIVER: “The RULE is ALL passengers MUST wear shoes; you might stumble, cut your foot, etc.”
PASSENGER: “That won’t happen; I watch where I’m going; and I’m very careful.”
DRIVER: Aggressively grabs his radio; contacts the dispatcher (his supervisor) and explains the situation.
SUPERVISOR: “It is at the discretion of the driver.”
DRIVER: Slams the radio down and sternly orders this peace-filled passenger “Sit right there; do not move; do not go anywhere else until ready to depart.”
Wow; what just happened? My thoughts began to shimmy… Who makes the rules? Who enforces them? Where are they written down? Where does one learn them? How is one to know them…particularly within a culture as diverse as a college campus?
For me, this incident activated (actually rekindled) a month long series of “curiosities” I’d been pondering and mulling over…about rules – not the written down and enforceable kind that legally bind us, but the kind most (or at least many) of us follow each and every day – unquestioned, unchallenged…rotely…somewhat like those famous lemmings from the old fable…
Urban usage: a person who unthinkingly joins a mass movement, especially a headlong rush to destruction. Example: “the flailings of the lemmings on Wall Street”
Insights posed during my Sociology class resurfaced…causing me to further journey down this intriguing path. During class, the professor presented and spoke about sociological concepts. One topic in particular was the arena of “social norms.” As an example, she specifically pointed out the rote behavior of women (mostly US) when it came to shaving their arm pits (and their legs, for that matter). Although I contained myself, inside I screamed YIKES, SHE’S RIGHT!! Men don’t shave their underarms (or their legs…unless, of course, they’re professional cyclists). So, why do women? If it doesn’t make sense, then why do we do it, why do we continue, and why can’t we stop? As one who faithfully (without questioning) adheres to this particular norm/protocol, I began to wonder. Why do I do it? Why don’t I stop? How did this activity get started? Plus, why do so many of us just keep doing it – even though it appears a bit senseless. Here’s what I learned:
What’s it like to be a woman who does not shave armpits who is living in a country where almost all
women do shave their armpits?
Naturally, I couldn’t just let the concept of “senseless” acts or behaviors rest or stop there. I started to think about and reflect on many other “human” type activities – especially within the United States – engages in that seem silly or unnecessary and wondered how they got their start. Take for example, have you ever wondered why men wear ties – even in warm climates and in today’s more casual environments…
Of course, the many examples I unfolded within the United States intrigued me (especially since I adhere to many of the “norms” or “customs” I unfolded). So, I decided to explore a few “norms” or “customs” within other countries… and wondered what it might feel like to if they entered into our world (US) from their’s. Here are just a few:
- 8 Cultural Differences between America And Other Countries
- Norwegians eat burgers with (gasp!) a knife and fork. Norway’s famous open-faced sandwiches are tough to eat without silverware, so they probably just decided to apply the habit to American sandwiches as well.
- In Japan, you might feel pressure to cover your abdomen during a rainstorm. Some people (mostly kids) say that in bad weather, the thunder god Raijin is on the hunt for belly buttons.
- Indians might avoid giving you a gift or your change with their left hand. Some argue it’s fine, but others say the left hand is known as the one you use for… you know… the potty.
- Colombian schoolchildren learn there are five continents, not seven. The specifics vary from nation to nation, but one popular interpretation lumps North and South America together as one continent called “America” and counts Europe and Asia together as “Eurasia.”
- Chinese potty training takes place in the streets. In certain rural parts of the country, it’s apparently acceptable for kids to relieve themselves wherever they please. To make things easier, pants even come with cute little slits in the booty!
- 30 Non-Americans On The American Norms They Find Weird
Crafted, researched and written by: LIZ CARLOCK
The Write Resources, LLC™
© 2015 EM Carlock