Culture Clash

April 1, 2005 - 12:00am -- swingbug

I've always been amused by pocket cultures - the cultures of very small groups. For example, the culture of a family or an office or a particular group of friends, or even of a town. (You can't live around The People's Republic of Davis and tell me that it doesn't have its own subculture.) It's the little inside jokes, language refinements, and social rules that makes a group of people unique, that make them belong to each other in some sense.

I was pondering the infinite complexities of girl culture yesterday. You can shake your head at me and say you don't know what I'm talking about, but whether you're a man or a woman, you've experienced and probably been perplexed by girl culture.

Let me give you an example. Yesterday I got a hair cut. I cut off about 3 inches. I then encountered several female friends who all said some variation of "Oh, you got your hair cut! It looks cute." I also encountered some male friends who didn't even notice. Does that mean that they don't really pay attention to me at all or that they hate my hair? No. It just means that paying attention to minor alterations to physical appearence, whether it be a hair cut or a new shirt, is not generally a part of boy culture.

When female friends encounter each other, it's polite to say something like, "That's a cute shirt. Is it new? It looks nice on you." This conversation has very little to do with shirts, nor does it have much to do with whether or not said shirt is asthetically pleasing. It's more akin to saying, "Hello. How are you?" Most of the time when you say that, you're not actually thinking Gee, I wonder how Joe is? It's just what you're supposed to ask. It's polite, like saying "bless you" when someone sneezes or excusing yourself when you burp. You say it without thinking about it.

Girl culture. The unspoken rules of conduct.

Boys adapt to girl culture in time. My family is full of girls. They're practically oozing out the windows. The men in my family get girl culture at least to the extent that they register that haircuts are Important somehow and saying "you look nice today" generally produces an amiable response.

My husband's family, on the other hand, is full of boys. I remember being quite shocked at the amount of hitting and punching and general physical abuse that his younger brother and friends would wield against each other. I couldn't help but want to intervene or leave the room. Being around so much "violence" was unfamiliar to me. It's boy culture. I've come to respect it, but I don't really get it. I come from the gender that invented "The Silent Treatment" and changed the definition of the phrase "I'm fine" so that it no longer means "I'm very well" but rather "I feel horrible and it's all your fault." We girls tend to wage an entirely different kind of war.

I'm not pointing this out to say that one culture is better than another or to be sexist in any manner. Cultures are not exclusive with strong, bold lines that separate Us from Them. They're flexible, they overlap, they bend, they come in gray scales.

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you are hanging out with people you know from two different places. Say you're having a birthday party and you've invited your neighbors and your co-workers. It can be an odd feeling being in a little knot of people that you associate with different parts of your life. Why is that? I think it's culture clash. It's like a bug in a computer program. You're not sure how the rules will apply here.

I know people in my life that I hug, people that I shake hands with, and people that I stand three feet away from when we talk. I have loved ones to whom I say "I love you" and loved ones to whom I don't verbalize my feelings. I have friends that I'll cuss in front of and friends with whom I'll unconsciously mind my sometimes ill-mannered tongue. There are friends that can come over when my house is a mess and friends that I clean up for.

None of these boundaries define or limit the way I feel about you or how much I love you. It's simply the little pocket culture that you and I have developed, in the quiet way that people form these little by-laws. A long list of IF THEN statements, if you will.

Have a good weekend, my friends.