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Public norms in the North/South

August 31, 2009

Things have been slow here lately because they have sped up considerably in the incarnate life: I have traded my southern base for a northern one. Though a total presence in my professional and personal life, the geographic reality of Rio has trailed off like a smear of clouds under airplane jet wheels.

It’s time to make some generalizations while the static shock of U.S. re-entry still has a hold on me, and everything is still fresh and ablaze with difference.

The shock mostly happens in brief reflections on differences in public behavior. To start, I am astonished by how driving ‘up North’ seems terribly polite and patient, with none of the usual attempts to kill pedestrians. If I jaywalk, which I engage in fairly often, drivers not only slow down but sometimes even smile and shoo me by with their hands. You get the distinct feeling you’re not being marked for the kill, which is always an encouraging feeling on public pavements.

I have stopped slinging my purse across my chest. Though fully aware that thievery often occurs when one’s sense of security is high, and there is thievery everywhere, bla bla bla, it’s just not something I think about often. Whatever actual or perceptual feelings of assault or robbery I experienced in Rio have been replaced with a sense of public calm, even neutrality, to items or potential valuables on my person.

There is little or no exposed dog feces everywhere. There is little or no exposed dog feces to step on.

The clean scentless sterility that some immigrants often describe as a contrast to their ‘south’ countries is pervasive and always under my nose.

Talking aloud on one’s cell phone during, say, a classroom lecture, is publicly frowned up on, unlike certain audacious scenes of in-class cell phone use I’ve witnessed in Brazil.

Young women who dress ‘loosely’ in daytime hours, or as though they are about to enter a nightclub, are judged as unintelligent or non-serious or both, whereas in Rio their clothing would make little or no overall impression on their moral character.

Young and old men leer less often or with more discretion.

And suddenly it seems like the atmosphere sped up and conspired and deprived me of time, ‘there’s never enough time’-like, although time is the same for people everywhere.

One Comment leave one →
  1. king leer permalink
    September 1, 2009 00:10

    i try to leer, but i find that it just comes off as observation and not true leering, alas

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