My daughter is studying French at the university she attends. She’s taking it for fun since she needs some extra units. Since she studied in high school for three years, she’s also hoping that it will also be an easy A.
One of the things she likes about the class is her instructor’s focus on cultural differences. (Since we’ve lived in several different places, we’ve experienced many taboos the hard way—breaking them by accident.)
Her professor has talked about living in Paris, about her homesickness, which resulted in overeating, and about a Parisian friend’s response. When she saw this friend after her bout of homesickness, the friend said, “Tu es grosse. Ca va?” Which in English is “You’re fat. How are you?” Of course, Ariel’s American prof nearly burst into tears. Later, she realized her friend wasn’t trying to hurt her feelings. It was just frank. (France was peopled by the Franks.) It was honest. As the prof admitted, it wasn’t like she could hide her larger size. And it did motivate her to do something about it.
One of the cultural virtues of the South, in which they take great pride, is politeness. The other day I was very impressed by it. A little old lady had stopped her car in the middle of the road. None of the ten cars lined up behind her (through an intersection) could get around her. But through the multiple lights, no one honked. Finally, a woman got out of her car and walked to the old lady’s car to see what was up. (I was traveling in the other direction and could see that nothing was up—the woman was staring around herself—either an Alzheimer’s situation or something worse. I felt very pleased that no one was making the situation worse by selfish honking. Score one for politeness virtues.
However, sometimes virtues become vices. The same day I was driving home and a light turned red. Cars stopped and waited. The light turned green. The car in the front didn’t move. And it didn’t move. At first, I thought, “Oh, some poor person killed their car or has car problems.” Until I realized that the person was texting—this was pretty apparent because it could be seen through the window. And still no one honked their horn. Twelve cars waited and waited. I finally honked, and the person looked up, put their phone down, and the light turned red. ACK!