"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Culture and Proper Manners

Ladies, did you grow up thinking properly-mannered men would open doors for you and allow you to proceed first from buildings and elevators?   Or did you conclude that this is traditional garbage that needs to go the way of thinking women are property of their husbands and fathers?

Just this week I finished a memoir, Amarcord, by an Italian lady Marcella Hazan who apparently is famous for writing cookbooks and teaching classical Italian cooking.  She tells of a visit to Japan in 1969 where she'd been "told of Japanese women's deference toward men, but my romantic Italian mentality, formed by tales of the age of chivalry and gallant knights, had refused to take it in."  Yet she saw it firsthand as her husband was served first in restaurants and where "waitresses fawned over Victor."  Even when she approached a door at the same time as a Japanese man, he "would rush past me to spare me the embarrassment of preceding him through it." 

Marcella remembers a time when she and her husband were in a hotel elevator in Tokyo, and "a big American man entered."  At the next floor two Japanese women in kimonos came in. Can you guess what happened when they reached the lobby?

"The Japanese women stood aside, with a smile and a hint of a bow, waiting for the man to exit first.  The tall American smiled back and waited for the ladies to go.  We were stuck in the back.  Nobody moved, the doors closed, and the elevator, with all its passengers still in place, rose to the uppermost floor again."

(pg. 118-119)


Marcella said she still giggles about this, and it is quite funny to visualize! 


So, culturally speaking, what is proper where you are from?  Do you tend to grab doors for ladies? Offer seats to older men and women? Defer to men?  What is proper where you live? It's good to know what is expected in other places so we won't all be riding the hotel elevator up and down all day, right?

Additional question: what is something you've had to do differently in another culture when you were visiting another country or even another group within your own country?  I remember when we went to Syria the only thing Samer told us not to do (because I asked about this prior to our traveling there) was not to offer to shake hands with guys (for me) or ladies (for Andrew) unless that person offered his/her hand first.

One of his friends "complained" that I didn't shake his hand, and "blamed" Samer for this!  He taught us well!  :)



(So, I read a book about a lady famous for cooking and post about a cultural tidbit... you see what interests me.)



14 comments:

jaraad said...

I will get some heat over this but some women don't know what they want when it comes how they want strange men to treat them. Wait! Let me finish.
Strangely, some women these days find it offending when a man opens the door for them and let them go first. I was laughed at when I addressed a lady as Mam.
Last year, a female Jordanian blogger ranted furiously in a long post how much she hates when Jordanian males address her as "sit" (mam or lady).
Some women take advocating equality to the bone. Of course except when it comes to public transportation they demand to be seated???
Now, sometimes we also need to think beyond male/female favoritism. In the old days, unlike now safety was a kind of an issue. Sine the man is known to be the stronger gender he is supposed to be the protector of the woman. Therefore, entering or existing a new place entitles the man to be in front of danger.
I don't play favoritism so I open and hold the door for men and women, young and old. I give my seat to old people and pregnant women only.

jaraad said...

Thanks for making commenting on your blog so easy. I used to suffer reading the unreadable captcha thing.

Amber said...

A man who doesn't hold the door for a woman or offer her his seat (unless he's injured or elderly) was not raised right.

I expect men to hold doors for me and if I rode public transportation, to offer me their seat. I expect them, if they're a stranger, to refer to me as Ma'am. Heck, my best friends husband *still* refers to me as 'ma'am' because he was raised right. But then again I refer to all strange men as 'sir' regardless of their age. So that evens out.

I object to Malik's assumption that men are stronger than I am physically. :p I can out lift most of the men I know. However I am more than willing to let men go into danger in front of me so I can take cover if needed, so I'm going to let that one stand. :)

jaraad said...

Is it true that people in the South are more mannered (still say Ma'am) than the mid and North?

Amber - You are right about the physical ability of some women. My uncle is married to a German woman. I saw her once move a heavy piece of furniture by herself. She did it after her tall and big husband couldn't do it. My poor uncle got teased by his male relatives for quite some time :)

Amber said...

Is it true that people in the South are more mannered (still say Ma'am) than the mid and North?

Yes. Because they weren't raised in a barn.

One of the highlights of my days is going to the gym and watching men try to lift the same amount of weight I've just lifted.

sanil said...

Is it true that people in the South are more mannered (still say Ma'am) than the mid and North?

No, we just have a different approach to manners. Up here, the word "ma'am" sounds strange, almost foreign. It's not something people up here say, and its meaning is kind of lost. Saying "ma'am" around here isn't a sign of respect, it would be taken almost as a joke because it's just not part of our regular vocabulary.

For that matter, we don't really use titles much. We don't address people by name or any other indicator when we talk to them, and it feels awkward to try. That's not because we're not polite, in fact I would speculate that part of the reason we don't do that here anymore is because we're overly sensitive and don't want to accidentally offend someone by calling them the wrong name. For example, calling someone "Mrs." who is unmarried or who prefers to go by something else would be considered rude. So to us it seems more polite not to call somebody by any indicator unless and until they tell us what they would prefer.

To Susanne's original questions - I hold doors for everyone, and I wait to sit until everyone else has taken their place so that I won't accidentally take the spot someone else wanted. However, if I'm already seated and someone else arrives later, I usually don't get up and offer them my seat because we don't really have a protocol for that here. Similar to not wanting to call somebody by the wrong name, we don't want to offend someone by suggesting they're feeble and need the seat more than we do.

I haven't noticed a major cultural difference anywhere. I have been to Tennessee a few times, but only to an area that besides being known for tourists is home to a lot of people originally from my part of the country. We're not sure why that is, but everyone I know who has gone to this vacation spot says the same thing - every local they met had moved there from the midwest. So even when I've traveled, I've just encountered more people who act like everyone I know up here!

Logically, my trip to New Mexico should have been a very different cultural experience. And it was, but it was so different that basic things like how to refer to someone didn't even enter my mind. For the most part I just didn't talk and left that to other people, which is basically how I act everywhere anyway.

jaraad said...

Sanil,
I was very new in Missouri when I called someone Ma'am. It was at a bank. The two female tellers laughed. I felt offended because they didn't explain why they laughed. But your explain makes sense. I noticed also that no one here uses Mr. or Mrs. as you mentioned.

Amber said...

No, we just have a different approach to manners. Up here, the word "ma'am" sounds strange, almost foreign. It's not something people up here say, and its meaning is kind of lost. Saying "ma'am" around here isn't a sign of respect, it would be taken almost as a joke because it's just not part of our regular vocabulary.

I would never survive up North or in the Midwest. I just wouldn't. The cultures are so different I'd wander around being offended/offending people all the time!

*huddles back into her South* Nevah leave me shugah.

Susanne said...

Malik, I enjoyed your comment and I understand your confusion about women not knowing what they want. I think it's thoughtful that you hold doors for all people. I often do the same. :)

I'm glad removing the captcha was helpful. I have suffered from those on other blogs as well. :)

Now, I'm curious why you said "Ma'am" to the ladies at the bank. Is that how you address women in Jordan or did you see this on American movies so you thought it was proper throughout the US?



Amber Shugah, your comment made me laugh especially the part about allowing men to go first so you can take cover if needed and huddling down in your South. Haha!



Sanil, thanks for speaking up with the Midwestern point of view! Enjoyed that! So you don't say Mrs. or Ms. or Miss? Do you just say "hey, you" or hope they look your way? Kidding! I guess "excuse me" works well if you are in a store and need someone's attention. :)

That's funny about the place you visit in Tennessee. When we visited Valle Crucis earlier this year, just the few minutes we were in the Mast General Store we met a number of people who had moved there from Florida. So I understand what you mean. :)


sanil said...

Do you just say "hey, you" or hope they look your way? Kidding! I guess "excuse me" works well if you are in a store and need someone's attention. :)

Ha! Well...kind of, actually. :D It's pretty common to just walk up and say "Hi!" and then when they look up and respond go into what you needed to say. If you're going to be talking to each other for more than just asking a quick question or something and it would be good to have things to call each other, sometimes we'll follow that up with an introduction. "Hello! My name is ____, I'm here for _____." Then they know what to call you and don't have to worry about saying the wrong thing anymore.

Susanne said...

That's great! Thanks for sharing. :)

jaraad said...

"Now, I'm curious why you said "Ma'am" to the ladies at the bank. Is that how you address women in Jordan or did you see this on American movies so you thought it was proper throughout the US?"

People who live outside America wrongly believe that the USA has one culture only. The one culture is of course the one they watch in Hollywood movies. So, yes I thought "Ma'am" is how you address a lady.

Susanne said...

I hadn't thought of that until you mentioned your ideas of American culture, and I can picture old cowboy movies with women being addressed that way. I am not much of a movie watcher to say if they do that anymore. Thanks for explaining. :)

Rebekka @ Becky's Kaleidoscope said...

I remember my first visit to the US, and I thought it so strange when I was addressed as "ma'am" (for me it sounded old, I was 21 at the time), but I was also visiting Tennessee (Memphis) and Arkansas, so the south.

As for the door holding, I was always taught to hold the door for anyone who is nearby, and I feel slightly offended when people - whether male or female, don't.

I don't expect people to stand up for me on public transport, and myself would only offer my seat to elderly, pregnant women or someone with a walking disability.