Aug. 25th, 2015

olmue: (me sketch)

My very polite, very respectful 10YO daughter got talked to sternly today while in the pick-up line after school today.

"Is that your car?" the older teacher asked.

"Yeah."

"Yes, ma'am."

Daughter raised her eyebrows, confused. Maybe the teacher didn't hear her? "Yeah."

"Yes, ma'am," the teacher reprimanded.

*both people in conversation are blown away by the utter rudeness of the other person*

I think that one of the big culture shocks going from the north/west to the south is how people show niceness/meanness. I'm from a very egalitarian culture, where you are nice to people and show respect by putting them on your same level. In my "home culture," even if you have a system that looks hierarchical--the LDS church has a worldwide, centralized leadership, for example, and that's certainly part of my home culture--the idea is not one person at the top dictating everyone's choices. It's someone putting their trust in another person as they delegate responsibility: "Here, this is your job, do it the best you know how, I trust you to use your resources and to take care of it, and then we can talk over the results as colleagues." Or, "Let's do this together. I know your brain is different from mine, but we'll work together and complement our differences and something good will come out of it." Any leadership structure is for the sake of efficiency, cohesion, and ease of transmitting information. To me it's a bit rude for one person to decide whose ideas are worthy and whose aren't based on status--and I expect people to speak up when they have something to say, and if they don't, that they don't. Things that point out explicit power structures can seem rude--if a northern kid said "Yes, sir!" to his dad, his dad might (as my dad would tell you) feel like the kid was back-talking. (This really bothered my NJ-born dad when we moved south, BTW. He had to tell himself every time that they were being polite.)

The south, OTOH, is an authoritative culture, which shows respect by putting everyone on a hierarchy, and you are required to give proper obeisance (in words--sir, ma'am, Miz Lizzy--and in exact, unchallenging obedience) to those higher up on the ladder than you are. In Southern, someone who doesn't do this is being very rude and mean. But to a westerner/northerner, the hierarchy thing feels like a smackdown and a power grab, and therefore mean. And sirring and ma'aming your parents? No way! that would be like waking up and finding that your parents don't love you anymore and are turning you into a child soldier! But to a Southerner going north, they feel that the lack of honorifics is a sign of rudeness. Lack of "proper" respect for those higher up the authority chain (by contradicting their ideas or approaching as an equal) is also rude. That close, almost parent-child setup is gone, and it feels very cold and disconnected. Lonely and unfeeling, like people don't care about others, just their own ideas.

After living in the north and west for so long, this setup feels very much in my face, and I have to consciously remind myself that it's not "wrong," and it's certainly not meant to be mean--it's just a different way that people in a different place have used to work for them. So yeah (ahem, not yes, ma'am!), I think we'll be having quite a lot of discussions on this at home...

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