Monday, November 15, 2010

Chairless Society Awareness

I first became aware of it a few decades ago. Walking downtown to school one morning I saw a man in a three piece suit waiting for the bus. Nothing unusual about that except that he was soles of his feet flat on the ground squatting waiting for the bus the way people from a society without chairs would do. The juxtaposition of a person dressed in formal western clothing squatting on the sidewalk in a non-western way was a bit of a jolt.

Yesterday morning I saw the person in the photos above (video stills, please pardon the low resolution) squatting on a bench and it reminded me about how 'obvious' things in our culture may not be so obvious after all. Here is provided a bench for sitting on so naturally the girl sits on it, but something isn't quite 'right' about the picture.

I recall a local story from the 80's in which a group of people who had risked everything to aid the US cause during the SouthEast Asian undeclared war were given asylum and allowed to settle in the US. Cultural assumptions by those charged with getting the people settled here led to some initial problems... The people were shown the kitchens of their new abodes and were told that the stove is where the food is cooked. Very good. Upon later visits though it was clear that the new settlers were piling wood on top of the stove burners and lighting the wood on fire to cook. No one had thought that they would not automatically know how a stove was designed to be used. After a (few) brush(es) with law enforcement, the same group of people had to be informed that hunting small game in Golden Gate park for dinner was not allowed. Too bad they were such early settlers.. If they had waited a few decades they'd be hailed as the ultimate 'eat locally sourced food' pioneers.

So, seeing the girl squatting on the 'sit' bench reminded me to question my natural assumptions.

I think I tended to buy too readily the idea that in a certain country in the middle east, after coming in and deposing a dictator, the people would welcome their given opportunity to have 'freedom' and embrace it eagerly as we in the US do. The reality may be that the majority have no concept of 'freedom' as we understand it and even if they did, they wouldn't want it.

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