The South is different from the Midwest. Yes, I understand how obvious that sounds, but why is Alabama part of the same nation as Michigan when Quebec isn’t? Maybe the South had it right when they tried to secede. It would have resulted in two nations with much more homogenous cultures.
Maybe these differences make us stronger somehow; I don’t know. All I know is that I have the urge to go throttle baby bunnies every time I hear somebody say, “y’all.” “Ain’t” is even worse. That word makes me want to throttle baby dragons, too.
A couple days ago, though, I was reminded that as different as Midwestern culture is from Southern culture, the customs of other nations make even “y’all” sound normal.
A para-church organization on campus was offering a free lunch on Tuesday. Now I might be going to college for free or practically so, but I still can’t pass up more free stuff, of which there has been an abundance this week. Anyways, I decided to go even though I know absolutely nobody involved with this organization.
You all (not y’all) know the feeling of awkward out-of-placeness that comes from walking into a building alone with nobody you know inside, but I bravely strode forward despite it. I moved into the line and began casually conversing with those around. I was proud of myself. Most people wouldn’t be proud of simple carrying on extemporaneous (gratuitous recondite words for the win!) small talk, but, well, people always want to talk about the weather. Couldn’t we talk about quantum entanglement or applications of carbon nanotube technology instead?
So there I was, proudly carrying on a conversation about the trivialities associated with the Auburn football team when I caught a whiff of…
You know what; this is turning into a long boring story about nothing. Let me see if I can speed it up for you.
Insert trite complaints about the impossibility of eating spaghetti in an elegant manner.
Insert horrific misuse of the word, “dissembling.”
Insert funny anecdote about auto-correct.
Insert more self-congratulation and bravado.
Insert dollar bill.
Insert grumbling about having to sit at a table with strangers.
…So there I was at a table with complete strangers. I wasn’t interested in learning their life stories, not really. I didn’t particularly want to tell them mine. I just wanted to take my spaghetti and shovel it into my mouth in peace.
It wasn’t to be. Somebody at my table decided that awkward small talk would be better than awkward silence. Here is wisdom for the ages: If you can’t decide whether to say something or keep your mouth shut, just keep your mouth shut. Nobody will thank you, but that’s okay. You can still revel in the feeling of having done a good deed. I give my permission.
So once again I engaged in small talk, putting my wit and general likeable manner to good use. At the table with us were three young ladies who were from Korea. I introduced myself to them and then thought nothing more of them. I had spaghetti to eat.
While I ate we talked about the classes we had just started. We talked about the difficulty of eating spaghetti without ending up with it decorating your shirt. Most of all, we talked about what I called the huge differences between the culture I lived in in Michigan and the culture of the South.
All through the meal I noticed that the Koreans did not speak. I shrugged it off as inexperience with English: it was obvious that they weren’t very fluent. And then one of them finished her spaghetti. Immediately there was a change. Her face up until then had been very expressionless, but suddenly she smiled and started giggling.
We looked at her in confusion, and then she said something along the lines of, “In my country, it’s quiet when we eat. We don’t spew food all over everyone.” Then she started giggling again.
There’s a lot of truth to that point of view, and it serves as a good, if somewhat frivolous, metaphor for other much deeper cultural differences between me and all those around me.
The only person whose thoughts I can see is myself. I’m assuming the same for all of you; although it would be cool to know I have a psychic reading my blog. Since we don’t know everything ,and often know nothing, of the past and culture of those around us, we must be sensitive. We need to be continuously outpouring, focused not on our selfish desires, our own culture, our own favorite way of doing things. The only way to interact with the world in a manner that won’t offend it is to care about it more than yourself.