I’m a trained anthropologist. And the thing about anthropology, is that it’s a science of aggregates. You learn about what the norms are, and the averages. You don’t get a good look at the individual, because you never know how well the individual represents the whole cohort. And then – you have advice columns.
Dear Abby is quintessential Americana, right? She (and her team) have been giving out advice on etiquette, pamphlets on manners for ages. She’s a household name. So, I have to assume that she chooses letters that have wide appeal, or that she sees often, or that most of America would be interested in hearing about. And I know – I’m different. I’m a hardcore NYC-bred liberal atheist Jew. So, I get I’m not the cross-section of all of America (and really, who is?) but a recent Abby column just … blew me away. In just one column, we had these two questions:
When I went to visit my mother, I found her lying on the kitchen floor. I asked her what she was doing there, and she said the floor feels cold and hard and soothes her back.
Abby, my mother has two very expensive beds in her home, and there is no reason for her to lie on the floor. It could be embarrassing if a friend or neighbor should pop in and find her there. How do I get her off the floor?
And, when you are done pondering that one:
We have an ongoing discussion in our office. What color ink is proper for signing birthday cards, sympathy cards, farewell cards, etc.?
One co-worker continues to use colors other than blue or black. An older co-worker says it’s inappropriate to use any other colors. I have searched for an answer to this question with no luck. Can you help?
Seriously. To her credit, “Abby” was similarly thrown a curve by these two idiots. But I just have to wonder – am I so far removed from … everyone else that my first thought was “Wait! People just walk into this woman’s house!?” and then “Seriously? She’s worried about being embarrassed? Who raised this woman? The mom on the floor? Who cares?”
Where are these tiny towns that gossip about Ethel lying on the floor for her bad back? Is Daughter Dearest worried that the neighbors will think mom is nuts, or that her daughter isn’t buying her mom proper back support tools? Do any of you out there on the internet live in one of these towns?
And the color pen? Seriously? That’s what people think etiquette and manners is all about? Bickering over pen color? I am hoping against hope that this is one of those silly office arguments and some goofball says “Let’s ask Dear Abby.” But … after hearing some horror stories about where people work, I just. don’t. know. This beyond being a yenta, right?
Tell me, do you live in a town like this? Work in an office like this? Am I that out of touch?
(Before the hate mail rolls in – I am in no way saying that all small towns are like this. I like small towns. I can’t even believe any small towns are like this. That is the fundamental question. )