On Not Thinking With Your Cultural Crotch
May 27, 2021
I fantasize about pugs.
Not the way other people fantasize about pugs, mind you—nuzzling them and squeezing them and squealing “oooohhhhhhh!!!!” before scooping them up in their arms for a welcoming, wet kiss (what is wrong with people).
Rather, I want to put their tiny little gargoyle heads straight into a vise. (I thought about writing “meat grinder,” but that seems a bit much.)
So far in life, I have had not one, but two pug sworn enemies, and I imagine the situation will only get more dire from here.
My first opponent was a pug who belonged to a guy I dated in my twenties. Her name was Annabelle. And every time I'd drive to Cape Cod to see the guy, Annabelle would be PISSED. There she was, squirming up in between us, taking all the joy out of every romantic encounter, begging with her big, dumb face for more attention than me.
The worst part, however, was that the guy would give it to her! Squiggle biggle diggle baby boo bear!!! Nothing irks me more than being outshined by one of these porklets. The last straw was the day I drove eight hours to the Cape and, upon arrival—lookin' smokin' hot and dying for a night of bubble gum—the guy fell asleep on the sofa with the dog. I will never, ever forgive that dog.
(Then again, this is a guy who, bless his heart, also straight-up panicked when I came out of the ferry restroom wearing nothing but my trenchcoat. Maybe I was overzealous.)
ANYWAY, where was I?
Ah, my other opponent.
She's a more recent addition to my cynical little life. Her name is Juliette. Of course her name is Juliette! You'd think Boris Johnson was naming these dogs.
Juliette lives next door. Juliette regularly ruins my life, around three times a week. It starts at about 11:30 pm and goes until approximately 4 am when this ruffian decides to bark. Oh, but it isn't just any bark! It's this high-pitched, ear-piercingly shrill alien cackle that stops and starts precisely every five minutes. That's the real torture, right there: the excitement that mounds as you've nearly beaten the beast and fallen asleep, when it starts up again. Forget waterboarding and loud music: all the CIA needs is a pug.
(Can you tell this was my night last night?)
When it's not a pug taunting me, it seems to be other people. I hate other people.
All I'm ever thinking is “please just shut the fuck up.” (Seriously, see how many times you think it in a day. I know you think it, too.)
For example, there are Argentines staying in the house next door. Not the one with the pug, the other one. They're visiting for three weeks.
Allow me to preface by saying I LOVE Argentines. I love Argentina. I love any place that hands you a tiny sausage and says, “enjoy.” But I gotta tell ya, every afternoon when this bunch of ten tango-ing terminators comes outside and starts exercising EN MASSE AS A FAMILY, I get a little twitchy. Not because I'm a giant fatty who hasn't been exercising lately and seethes with resentment—although that's not entirely inaccurate—but because they have the nerve to lug this EXTREMELY LARGE AUDITORIUM SPEAKER that requires two people to move it onto our shared driveway, where they then proceed to blast, at eleventy-hundred volume, Daddy Yankee & some man named Bravo the Bag Chaser for two hours straight. Two full hours! Two full hours of club-level-volume burpees, running laps, and not caring even the tiniest bit that other people live there, that I am living here, that we're allllllll lllliiivvvinnggg hereeeeeeeeeeee, trying to eat dinner, SEEING THEM AND DISAPPROVING OF THEM AND FIRING HOT VOLCANIC RAGE LASERS INTO THEIR BUTTS.
Maybe it's all the sausage. Maybe that's why they're doing so much exercise.
Either way, please just shut the fuck up.
I know, I know, I've gotten old. But also: noise pollution is a thing! And when you come and interrupt the peace & quiet I have in my (writing, thinking, working, dining-with-gentle-jazz) brain, I get a little testy.
I said to C the other day: “Is this a cultural thing?” And when I said it, I was genuinely curious. “Is it possible that the greater culture of Latin America, with its quintessential tight-knit family units and general ‘what's mine is yours-ness,' are so accustomed to sharing everything, that they think the silence is theirs to take, too?”
And what I really wanted to understand was: do they know they're being invasive? Or is this a cultural norm, and, therefore, invisible as air?
I think back to all of the times this has happened with Costa Rican visitors. One of the long-standing jokes we have is if an American family rents the vacation home next door, we'll sleep well. If a Costa Rican family does, however, we're going to sleep in a hotel. There is such a predictable difference when it comes to the cultural norms of noise levels, and what's appropriate in the air space of others.
The Americans eventually turn down the music and go inside to finish their evening.
The Costa Ricans will have that same jumbotron of a speaker bumping until 4 am—right alongside that ham flower, Juliette.
Though it's truly no surprise: Americans are notorious for valuing their personal space (and, by extension, that of others). It's one reason why suburbia thrives, why kids in suburbia fight for their own rooms, and why there are even laws on how loud your air conditioner can be. It's why we have parks and lawns and BIG, BIG everything, as we're known to have.
And it's also why, when C's Costa Rican aunt once suggested to me that “we all take a nap in the big bed,” she might as well have suggested she was bagging the Oklahoma City Bomber. (I would have been more accepting of this idea.)
Who we are is, first and foremost, a function of where we are.
Which is slightly annoying, as the idea of culture as an invisible lever removes a critical layer of personal agency. Like, maybe you don't like yoga because you actually like yoga! Maybe your culture has brainwashed you to like yoga! Y'know what I mean?
It's the invisibility of it all that's piquing.
What are the things that you do, that you can't see?
The way you think about work.
The way you think about family.
The way you think about kids.
The way you think about—*snarl*—pugs.
It's almost impossible to be right about anything when everything is so colored by culture. Of course you think that. Of course you do that.
But that doesn't always mean it's your choice.
Ah, the crux of it all!
Are you choosing the life you want? Or are you an unsuspecting marionette, dancing to Bravo the Bag Chaser?
Who's really making the decisions here?
Is it you?
Can it be you?
If everything you think is guided by invisible, cultural norms, then to what degree is your life actually yours, and to what degree is it simply a caricature? Cartoonish, mimicked, satirized, spoofed—and, in some cases, heartbreakingly hollow?
The good news is: you can decide to be self-aware.
You don't have to be a puppet at the play.
You don't have to always go along with your culture's definition of success.
You don't have to be “on track” with other people's expectations of your life.
But you do have to set some expectations for yourself, and a good place to start is asking:
Which cultural norms do I agree with? Which do I think are bullshit? And do I have the courage to trust in my own ideas?
So many beautiful people are trapped in the idea of being “good,” that they never stop to scrutinize whether or not their life actually is.
Then again, so many beautiful people are also getting a grand night's sleep without a twenty-pound bag of squiggle biggle diggle baby boo bear, ten tango-ing Terminators, and a partridge named Juliette (barking up) a pear treeeeeee.