Having Your Social Perks and Eating Them Too

Every culture has silly rules that everyone follows. As a religious person, I don’t really like saying, “Bless you,” when someone sneezes. A blessing is a real thing, not an interjection following a bodily function. Still, I would rather live in a place that cheapens blessings for the sake of manners than in a place with no manners at all. A trivial example, I know.

Perhaps as a more relevant and personal example, I could mention that I am currently planning my wedding, and while looking into photographers, I noticed elopement is on the rise. You can tell because many photographers are now offering elopement packages. This is unsurprising, because wedding-planning can easily be a nightmare. I would actually be interested to take a poll to find out what percentage of couples, during wedding-planning, eventually say something along the lines of, “How about we just elope?” I’m sure it’s a lot.

I would like to challenge this way of thinking by asking what the real motivation is behind forsaking certain norms or traditions. A couple who wants to elope may justify the desire by appealing to the impracticality of the ceremony. However, they likely arrived at the desire to elope, not through concerns of practicality, but through the stress which comes along with planning a wedding.

During a trip to Spain, I could not believe how well-dressed most small children were. Siblings would often be wearing matching outfits. It was quite remarkable given what I’m used to here, where it’s simply not an expectation to adorn your kids with expensive clothing so they can roll around on the ground. Suppose the Spanish were to drift away from this societal expectation of prim and proper toddlers. Whether this change is reasonable or unreasonable would depend on whether the change were motivated by laziness, or practicality. The problem is that no one would ever admit if it were the former.

Furthermore, regardless of the basis of the societal pressures to which we are subject, we would do well to remember that we are also beneficiaries of other norms, and I see no clamoring for the benefits to be halted on the basis of them being archaic, meaningless, or impractical.

I live in Canada, where the average gratuity for service is 15-20%, and that is what’s expected not for excellent service, but any service at all. In France, you might leave 5-10% if you’re extremely satisfied with the service. Needless to say French patrons stick out like a sore thumb in Canadian restaurants. Another example would be hospitality. We have a code of privacy in the west where, if someone were to show up at your house unannounced, it would be considered pretty presumptuous unless the visitor were a very close friend or family member. In other countries (much poorer ones, I’ll add), it is common for people to drop in this way, and the host is expected to entertain them.

In order to be consistent, should we not apply the argument universally? If we exempt ourselves from exerting a bit of effort for the sake of a social expectation that we find impractical, should we not also deny ourselves some of the societal perks we enjoy?

You attend a wedding dressed casually because, you think, what does formal attire have to do with the union of two souls? Now, will you still accept the free meal and open bar at the expense of the newlyweds?

Apparently the revised first date etiquette is that the one who proposes should be the one to pay the tab. But no matter who proposes, it’s still the woman who’s spending three hours in front of a mirror making sure she looks perfect, and it’s the man who, at most, is going to apply some cologne and wear a button-up shirt. The man is a beneficiary of the woman’s longstanding social responsibility to look hot. Is he now also to benefit from the recent rejection of gender norms which previously would have compelled him to treat her? More to the point, is he consenting to these new standards for the sake of gender equality, or to save some cash?

Lest you think I’m making a case in defense of all cultural norms whatsoever, I do believe that many are detrimental. Understanding exactly what makes a social expectation detrimental would be a valuable point of discussion. At the very least, something which runs contrary to one’s moral principles should be abandoned, but I do get the impression that it is more often a reluctance to perform one’s social duty which causes people to be critical of their respective societal codes of conduct, even while they gladly soak up the many ways in which these same rules work in service to them.

I would love to hear your examples of when you’ve felt like your culture was asking too much of you. What is your metric for determining when this is the case? Are there benefits you feel like you receive from living within a certain demographic that are too lavish?

Let me know in the comments.

While you’re thinking about that, put on some of my music and see if it helps you think.

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