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This place matters

Monday, November 8, 2010

Yeah, but did you pick your feet in Poughkeepsie?

I've been thinking about etiquette lately. I remember being young and thinking that etiquette was about the dumbest thing on earth. We invent these rules, which are mostly entirely arbitrary, and then go bananas when people don't follow or know about them. What if I decided that from now on, everybody I met had to greet me by jumping on one foot while hopping around in a circle and became livid with people who didn't? Is that really all that different from being offended when someone doesn't know which fork to use? Why the hell do there need to be multiple forks anyway? And wouldn't it make so much more sense if we tucked our napkins into our shirts rather than on our laps?
Come to thinking of it, I still think etiquette is pretty dumb. Most of it anyway.
Saturday at the library, I thought I'd learn a bit more about etiquette from Do's and Taboos from Around the World, edited by Roger Axtell. Well strike one, plurals don't get apostrophes; it should be Dos. Then again, dos looks wrong and has a different meaning. But I digress as usual.
So the book talks about conversation topics that are and are not acceptable around the world. As you'd expect, in most countries, you wouldn't want to talk about personal finance or contentious issues and such. But here are some of the odd ones:
  • In Germany and Italy, you're not supposed to talk about American football. Why, exactly, do you suppose? Is it a sore spot? Did American football beat them up on the playground? It may just be that Germans and Italians don't know a lot about American Football, but wouldn't that be true of a lot of countries? Or are they just mad that we call football soccer and soccer football?
  • In Israel, it's rude to talk about the aid that the US sends to Israel. How often do you suppose that comes up in casual conversation? Like you're just making casual conversation: "Isn't the weather nice? Do you like soccer? How do you feel about the fact that my country keeps coughing up the Benjamens for yours?"
  • In Spain, you're not supposed to knock bullfighting. That's kind of a random thing to bring up in conversation, but sure. Whatever.
  • In Switzerland, you're not supposed to talk about weight or diets. I'm not sure what, if anything, this has to do with the fact that the Swiss have one of the lowest obesity rates in the world. Maybe it's like pointing out "Hey, I'm fat!"
  • In Kenya, it's a big no-no to talk about the Mau Mau period. Assuming you've heard of the Mau Mau period, which I certainly hadn't.
  • In Zambia, you're not supposed to talk about Zambian inefficiency. 
  • In the Middle East, it's unwise to talk about your pet dogs.
  • In Japan, it's not polite to bring up WWII. "Hey, remember when your country sneak-attacked our country for no good reason, and then we dropped bombs that would destroy the land and kill innocent civilians for years to come? It's a good thing we can look back on it now and laugh."
  • In Singapore, you shouldn't make jokes about the food you're being served.
  • In Brazil, it's not okay to make ethnic jokes. Really? Brazil is the only country on earth in which you shouldn't make ethnic jokes? Also, Argentina is not an acceptable topic of conversation.
  • In Mexico, you shouldn't talk about the Mexican American war. Dude, that was kind of a long time ago. Bygones? And I thought the Irish held grudges.

1 comment:

Cap'n Ergo "XL+1" Jinglebollocks said...

we're in the wrong line of business... We need to be writing this stuff and charging massive amounts of cash to go on the lecture circuit. It worked for those Cheese books...

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