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[culture|child] Giraffe rules and shotgun rules - Lakeshore
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Jay Lake
Date: 2012-05-19 06:28
Subject: [culture|child] Giraffe rules and shotgun rules
Security: Public
Tags:child, culture, funny
About four years ago here on the blog, I mentioned the concept of "giraffe rules" [ jlake.com | LiveJournal ]. As I said at the time:
“Please don’t eat the giraffe” rules […] are the kinds of rules any society has which no one ever thinks to spell out in so many words, until someone comes along who tries to eat the giraffe. If you’re a parent, you’re pretty familiar with these rules, because kids are always finding some giraffe to eat. If you hang out with writers, many of whom are the beneficiaries of what at the kindest could be called quirky socialization, you run into some of these same rules. (And of course, there are places in the world where “Please don’t eat the giraffe” may well be a needed social rule.)

So a while ago, [info]the_child commented that she thought that Mother of the Child and I weren't very good parents.

"Why?" I asked her, quite curious about this utterance.

"Because you don't give me very many rules."

"Well," I pointed out, "You don't need a lot rules. You pretty much behave yourself. Parents make rules when kids do things they shouldn't."

Such as trying to eat the giraffe.

There are so many unwritten rules in society. Not just unwritten, but even unconscious. A favorite example of mine is the priority of seating in an automobile. With the partial exception of a socially flat group of peers (such as high school kids of the same gender and clique in the same year-class), we almost always know who's going to sit where in a car without having to ask. If you begin to pick at how that works, it's a pretty complex hierarchy with a lot of exception management. Who owns the vehicle? Who has the keys? Who is dating or married to whom? Who's infirm or elderly? Who's exceptionally tall or short? What's the gender mix? What's the age mix? And even for peers, there's a protocol. Calling "shotgun", for example.

Yet no one ever sits down and explains this to people. We all just know, by some magic osmosis. We'll call these shotgun rules.

So there are giraffe rules, which are so obvious they aren't normally stated at all, then there are the shotgun rules which are the opposite of obvious, maybe even vanishingly subtle, but they aren't normally stated either. And believe me, being a parent brings both sets of rules to consciousness, especially if you have a kid like mine, who spends a lot of time analyzing other people's behavior. Or likewise if your kid's on the autism spectrum, you spend a lot of time explaining these rules.

What are your favorite examples of giraffe rules? What are your favorite examples of shotgun rules?

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cathshaffer
User: cathshaffer
Date: 2012-05-19 13:36 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Shotgun rules: Adults know that you don't move unpredictably in a crowd, that you make way for people moving past, that you don't back up, twirl or hop around in a busy passageway. Young children don't get it, and their parents have to police them, moving them out of the way, apologizing to passersby, etc. The rules are seldom explained beyond "stop that, you're in the way," but at some point kids learn how to be aware of people moving around them, and to avoid blocking traffic or keeping people from going where they need to go. My son gets it now, at age 13. I can't remember the last time I had to ride herd on him that way, maybe around 9 or 10?

I have to admit, even though I'm a parent, I can get really annoyed at the clueless little kid that I can't get around because he is staggering around and spinning in a passageway effectively blocking everyone. I've been that parent, and I've done my best to get my kid out of the way, so I should be sympathetic. I think the reason it's so annoying is because it is such a powerful unwritten rule. You don't DO that.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2012-05-19 13:45 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Which reminds me of a rule case that isn't universally understood:
Don't stop the moment you step off the bottom or top of an escalator to look around and figure out what you're going to do next.

I've run into a surprising number of adults of who don't understand this one. Sometimes literally run into them.
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cathshaffer
User: cathshaffer
Date: 2012-05-19 13:55 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Oh, heavens, yes, do run into them. Run them right over.
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madrobins
User: madrobins
Date: 2012-05-19 18:34 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
THISTHISTHIS!

Drives me crazy. It can also be expanded to: don't stand in the doorway trying to decide which way to go; don't stand at the top of the subway stairs looking for a street sign; don't assume that all the other bodies moving around you (or trying to) are simply set dressing. (Signed: a sometimes-cranky New Yorker.)

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Twilight
User: twilight2000
Date: 2012-05-19 14:05 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Funny, I get annoyed as well - but at the parent for not helping their kid to understand the "customs" better :>.
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jimvanpelt
User: jimvanpelt
Date: 2012-05-19 15:41 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
There are rules that seem like they ought to be giraffe rules with my kids that never seem to have taken. For example, it seems really obvious to me that if you wash your plate, and there is another plate there, that you should wash it too. This is a concept none of my three boys ever mastered.

- You should hang your towels.
- You should pick up your clothes from the bathroom floor after you shower.
- You should put the milk back in the fridge.
- You should tell the person who buys groceries when you finish something (and not put the empty box back in the cupboard).
- If the wastebasket is overflowing, so much so that you can't throw away what you are holding, you should empty the trash.

I think most parents recognize these problems.
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punkrockhockeymom
User: pnkrokhockeymom
Date: 2012-05-19 17:45 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
My kids haven't gotten any of those yet, really, and they are all 17 and 18. (I have just the one officially, but have about 4 others that I consider half-mine because they are here so frequently). They seem to be trying harder in anticipation of the new baby. But the towels OH MY MOTHER OF GOD JUST HANG THE TOWEL UP.

On the other hand, a lot of the giraffe rules that are about consideration of feelings, they have down very well, better than some adults I know. So at least there's that.
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madrobins
User: madrobins
Date: 2012-05-19 18:36 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I found that growing some really stinky mildew on a towel left crumpled in the corner of her room supplied my younger daughter with an object lesson, and she's been minimally better about the JUST HANG THE TOWEL UP rule.
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matt_doyle
User: matt_doyle
Date: 2012-05-19 13:56 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
In Europe (or at least France? But the French told me Europe), there are shotgun-style priority rules for crowded escalators. One lane stands still, one lane walks as fast as it can. I made an ass of myself in the Paris subway system until they were explained to me and I could sort out which lane to stand in and how to behave in that lane; and I bet most American tourists do likewise.
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scarlettina: NYC subway token
User: scarlettina
Date: 2012-05-19 14:01 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:NYC subway token
I've seen a rule set like that in New York for escalators. It may not be Europe in particular but, rather, urban settings in general, where crowd control becomes a community effort.
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Larry Sanderson
User: lsanderson
Date: 2012-05-19 14:28 (UTC)
Subject: Si
The Mpls airport people-mover conveyor belts post Stand Right Walk Left. For some reason, couples often believe themselves exempt...
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Karen
User: klwilliams
Date: 2012-05-19 16:11 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
San Francisco has that same rule in the escalators for BART and Muni (the transit systems).
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jere7my: Glasses
User: jere7my
Date: 2012-05-19 16:25 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Glasses
Yup. That is the rule in Boston, too.
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Karen
User: klwilliams
Date: 2012-05-19 17:15 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
San Francisco has that same rule in the escalators for BART and Muni (the transit systems).
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madrobins
User: madrobins
Date: 2012-05-19 18:38 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I grew up believing that foot traffic was like car traffic: slow walkers/standers on the street or on escalators keep to the left, and people who stop and stand on the right side of the escalator are in need of a sharp "excuse me" (if not an elbow to the ribs). Groups of people who stop in the middle of the sidewalk to have an animated discussion while forcing everyone else to walk around them (including little old ladies in walkers) have missed a vital lesson somewhere.

The whole being-aware-of-human-traffic-flow thing is one of my hot buttons.
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thinking outside the next box over
User: brownkitty
Date: 2012-05-19 19:40 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I've seen that rule, but expressed as "fastest to the center" rather than "fastest to the right/left."
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Skellington
User: skellington1
Date: 2012-05-19 18:34 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Yup, seen that rule spelled out (so not a shotgun rule) in transit areas -- I think in Vancouver BC, among others.

It may be a 'shotgun' (unspoken) rule in Europe, though. I think another example may be how we walk in hallways -- I know in the US we do tend to walk on the right side in a crowded hall, just like in traffic. Wasn't paying enough attention in the UK to see if it reversed.
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dionysus1999
User: dionysus1999
Date: 2012-05-21 18:47 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I learned "walk on the right side" in kindergarten. Frustrates me no end when people don't follow it, especially around corners.

And those groups of people (cons are only one example) who stand in the middle of the right-of-way chatting? Rude!
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a_cubed
User: a_cubed
Date: 2012-05-20 02:07 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
London has "stand on the right, walk on the left" on escalators. Tokyo has "stand ont he elft, walk on the right". Kyoto follows London not Tokyo. Non-metropolitan areas in Japan don't seem to have any rules, nor do non-metro areas in the UK.
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Twilight: Imperious
User: twilight2000
Date: 2012-05-19 14:07 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Imperious
I'm wondering how one slips both Giraffe and Shotgun rules into ones' writing... I can imagine it easily enough in a First Contact novel (Foreigner does it brilliantly) - but in other types of novels?

:>
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Karen
User: klwilliams
Date: 2012-05-19 16:04 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
One of the things I noticed in high school was that, among my friends, the ones who had parents who made a lot of rules were the ones who constantly worked at breaking those rules. The two of us who had parents who relied on us to be responsible were responsible (or had internalized "don't get caught" for when we did do things that we knew our parents wouldn't consider "responsible").
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rekre8
User: rekre8
Date: 2012-05-19 16:36 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
My house mate was once honestly & urgently told to "don't step on the buffalo", but, you know, that was a bit situational.

I suspect giraffe rules have evolved, as you say, as peer based crowd control specifically so that the individual brains can get on to other stuff and not have to spend energy on the intervening steps and issues of getting places.

On the Hawthorn bridge, during rush hour by bike, the westbound path has a lane marked for bikers and a lane for walkers, but the unwritten rule is that the bikers ride in the pedestrian lane unless there is someone on foot to overtake, allowing enough space between you and vehicle traffic for someone riding faster to get around you. No one mentions this, and it's against the legal signage, but we all do it, and get a bit riled during bike to work week when all the newbies are trying to figure this out, and are *in the way*.
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thinking outside the next box over
User: brownkitty
Date: 2012-05-19 19:49 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
How to address an adult when you are a child seems to be a highly regional giraffe rule. As an example, I grew up in Missouri, where a child used first names for an adult pretty-much only for aunts and uncles. Friends of your parents were either honorary aunts or uncles, or Mr. or Mrs./Miss/Ms./Title Lastname.

The custom of Mr./Mrs./Ms./Miss/Title Firstname, as used in Georgia where my husband is from, still seems wrong to me after having been married for sixteen years and together for eighteen.

As for shotgun rules, this is silly but I've been noticing it a lot this school year. Who do you swear around? There are some obvious examples, such as "not around the boss and customers at work,", but what about social situations that might involve those same people?
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russ: lyles constant
User: goulo
Date: 2012-05-19 21:23 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:lyles constant
It's a common humorous cliche that there are complex rules of etiquette for which urinal to go to (although I think it's not as strict or universally followed as the zillions of webpages about it like to make it out to be).

https://www.google.com/search?q=urinal+etiquette+rules
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a_cubed
User: a_cubed
Date: 2012-05-20 02:14 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
There's a great book analysing these kinds of rule for the English (note: this book 's results only apply to the English - Scots, Welsh, Northern Iris and other elements of the UK share some of the rules but not to the same extent). The book is called "Watching the English" and is a pop-sociology book by academic sociologist Kate Fox. I've given seven of eight people copies (I was given my copy by a friend). I've given copies to both English people ("I do this. And this. SO that's why I do THAT. Oh my god, I am SO English.") and to non-English people who deal with the English a lot ("So that's why they do that. I always wondered since it seems so counter-intuitive, but now it makes sense why, even though I still think it's daft.")
My favourite piece is the description of "the natural state of an English person is at the head of a queue of one". I wrote a piece in 2007 on my first visit to Japan about the difference between queueing on railway platforms and entering carriages in Japan compared to the UK. Because the drivers are good at stopping precisely where they're supposed to and the door positions are marked on the plaftorms, the Japanese queue neatly on the platform. Much less so in the UK where the doors can be randomly ten feet from their nominal target. However, when people enter carriages in the UK people don't generally scramble to grab the seats. In Japan as soon as you set foot in the carriage it's everyone for themselves just about.
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Lizzy Shannon
User: lizzyshannon
Date: 2012-05-20 02:34 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I loved this - great post. :-)
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Reynardo the Red
User: reynardo
Date: 2012-05-20 04:27 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
And here comes the other side of the story, if I might.

I can't see giraffes.

I have to have giraffes pointed out to me.

I still get thrown when a rule that's been explained to me suddenly doesn't apply - the "who sits where" one being a lovely example. "But last week you put Aunty Jean in the front seat and I had to sit in the back - why am I now in the front?

The unspoken rules aren't always heard. That's what it's like for someone like me, with Aspergers.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2012-05-20 14:01 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Well, yeah, I can see that. And oh boy did we trip over both giraffe rules and shotgun rules around here last night. Sigh.
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Msconduct
User: msconduct
Date: 2012-05-20 12:05 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I once read that where a sign exists telling you not to do something, it's a marker of a history of people doing that very thing. (Sounds kinda obvious at first, then not so much.) So "No shirt, no shoes, no service" is actually "We thought it was an obvious giraffe thing that you had to wear a shirt and shoes in here. Guess not. Sheesh!"
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