4 Things You Think Are Universal (Are Different Everywhere)
I grew up on a sailboat, so I am from the sea. And in my travels, the one thing I've noticed is that everywhere is different. Not in the obvious ways, and not just because anywhere that isn't soaking wet, windy and full of sharks seems strange to me. I'm talking about differences that make no sense. Differences that we really should've standardized by now. Differences in ...
Driving a car is pretty close to a universal experience because it's so easy. It's damn near impossible to be too dumb to drive. Yes, even a manual transmission. And the basics are pretty straightforward, right? Red stop, green go, yellow don't get distracted right now because shit's about to go off. So it should be the same everywhere, right? Nope! One of the wonders of the world's endless diversity is that nobody can agree on how best to hurtle themselves around in their exploding metal caskets-on-wheels.
Even if you stay confined to America, driving around Los Angeles is nothing like driving around Boston or Seattle or anywhere else. The cars are speaking different languages to each other. In Seattle, a turn signal means "I wanted to turn back there, but it was a one-way street." In Boston, it means "I forgot my blinker is on." And in LA, it means "I'm new here, please pass me." Roads are different, too: In D.C., some lanes will change direction at different parts of the day, like they're a staircase at fucking Hogwarts.
There's a reason those things vanished after the first movie.
So let's say you want to take the easy way out and rely on public transit. Ha. This means you either make friends with a local or learn a complex form of math unique to that city and not taught in any schools. I visited New York City with native New Yorker Alex Schmidt, and the whole time I felt like I was following Gandalf through Moria (minus the part where Gandalf got lost). I'd say "let's visit Central Park" and he'd wave his subway card three times and bam, we were in the forest. I didn't plan on trusting Schmidt with my life that weekend, but I did, so consider this me officially vouching for his trustworthiness.
But once you leave America, that's when things get really confusing. Not only do people in other countries drive on the wrong side of the road (how fucking hard would it be to standardize that, Earth?) but they also navigate roads totally differently. What's the fastest way to the peak of a volcano? If you said "in a minivan, far more quickly than seems safe," then you must be from Trinidad or anywhere in the Eastern Caribbean. And I'm sure you've seen this video of an Iranian "intersection."
Or this one of a routine Russian traffic stop:
The point is, you know how Henry Higgins can tell where someone is from based on how they talk? Of course you do. My Fair Lady is a universal cultural touchstone that every Cracked reader is intimately familiar with. Well, I can tell where you lived when you turned 16 by how you drive. Or at least, I would be able to do that if I took the time to develop this skill.
"Ah yes," I might say, "you drive like you're from Lisson Grove."
"Bloody 'ell, 'ow did you know that, gov?"
"Never mind, you do!"
And so on. I bet you're wondering why I'm making so many jokes about My Fair Lady, a fifty year-old musical. Well, there aren't that many movies in the sea, which is, again, where I am from originally.
What Tastes Good Mixed With Beer
Arguments about which kind of beer or liquor is the best are always pointless, because all kinds of alcohol are acquired tastes. We only "like" the taste of our favorite beer because we know it will get us drunk, which is why nothing that doesn't get you wasted is "beer-flavored." It's a tenuous relationship we have with getting plastered, so let's not sully that with a competition over which beer tastes better. Instead, let's talk about how freaking weird "red beers" are.
A red beer is one part spicy V8, four parts beer, and a splash of Cholula hot sauce. (No other brand will do. This is not a paid advertisement.) It's similar to a michelada, and made with slightly different ingredients in different places. It is also the complete fucking best. If you've been working outside in the snow for several hours and come in to have one like I did a couple years ago, the experience will completely change your drinking game forever. And yet some people (New Englanders, I'm talking about you) refuse to try it, and accuse me of all manner of treachery and malfeasance when it is suggested. And yet those very same people, who rejected my suggestion out of hand will happily enjoy a shandy, which is beer mixed with fucking lemonade. It's a drink that can only be blended on a full moon while cackling to your deformed lab assistant, or by a lobsterman (any lobsterman will do).
It's like every culture can tolerate mixing beer with one fruit, but you better choose that fruit carefully, because you only get one. I imagine the kind of subhuman goblins who enjoy blueberry beer are equally disgusted by both red beer and shandy. Or maybe this theory is bullshit, because I think shandy is pretty good, and yeah, sure, I'll try that blueberry beer too. Why not.
Now for my serious theory: Deep down, we all remember in our hearts that alcohol tastes like absolute dog shit. The first time we sipped booze as a kid and made a face of absolute revulsion was the correct instinct, and we just trained ourselves out of it because being drunk is so great. That's why every region of the Earth has landed on a different answer for the "correct" way to get sloshed. That's why people drink booze with worms in it or human toes or whatever. There are even parts of the world where people actually enjoy Heineken. They buy it on purpose and everything! Then they drink it in public. Someone needs to bring Christianity to those dark corners of the world.
Remember how I started this entry saying that it's wrong to mock other people's drinking preferences? That's because my people are, like the sea that we call home, prone to sudden and inexplicable changes. My convictions about passing judgement may not have been as strong as I implied. Especially not when it comes to fucking Heineken (this also isn't a paid advertisement).
"Hold on," you say, skeptically dictating your thoughts to a computer screen, "driving and boozing I'll buy, but sleeping? How can that be different in different places?" But it is.
One example is the "siesta," which is a Spanish and Mexican thing where you take a nap in the middle of the day. You might call that lazy if you've never worked a manual labor job in a climate where the thermometer hits 105 degrees Fahrenheit from 1-3 p.m. every goddamn day. But the real weird part is the consequences. Napping for a couple of hours in the afternoon means you're staying up later. Throw in another evening nap, and bam, your entire night out changes. In Spain and Mexico and the hipper parts of America that Aziz Ansari and Noel Wells visited in that one episode of Master Of None, people regularly sleep until midnight or 1 a.m. and then go out, even though this is stupid. And impossible for me, personally. That's really my main argument here.
Yeah, I could be that cool too, if I wanted to and if my sleep schedule was more flexible.
What was the name of the town? I can't remember. It's in the episode "Nashville," so go watch that and let me know. Anyway, I tried this in Spain exactly once. I woke up at 11:30 p.m., went from groggy to drunk with no middle ground, and then peed in a stairwell.
Listen, seriously: Sleeping in the middle of work makes sense, because work sucks. But sleeping in the evenings? What about TV? Why would you force yourself to go through the agony of waking up any more than you already have to? It's the worst part of being alive and this custom triples the number of times you have to do it. Instead of taking that early evening siesta, why not -- and I know this sounds crazy -- just go out drinking? Everything's already there. You are unnecessarily complicating things with your sleep-based shenanigans. Siestas I'm fine with. Pre-booze naps, however, are fundamentally wrong.
And if I were smarter and more talented and
Look, I may not have the best perspective on this, because I'm kind of broken when it comes to human socializing. Like I said at the beginning, I am from the sea, which means I was never in one place for too long. Which means a lot of my childhood friendships started when I saw someone else my age on a beach and ran up to them to say, "Quick, let's be friends before I leave again. Do you like pretending sticks are swords? Oh man, what a coincidence, me too. Here are all my most personal secrets," and then it would be time for them to leave forever. Then I would travel back to the U.S. and discover that in towns with stable populations, friendship circles were carefully guarded secret societies whose access must be first fought for and then jealously guarded. "That's stupid," I'd say, and then have just the worst time making friends (though I still managed to accrue some very special ones).
Until I moved again, and had to adjust to completely different rules once more. Where it was once unacceptable to not enjoy the Dave Matthews Band, one might suddenly be known as a bit of a dorkus for not liking My Chemical Romance. "Do you know how to ski?" can go from an insulting insinuation of diminished masculinity to a nonsense hypothetical.
"No, I don't regularly drive 500 miles just so I can be cold on a hill."
You know what else is weird? How quickly you adopt the new rules when you move somewhere. When I first arrived in Seattle, I learned about the "Seattle Freeze," which is when you enthusiastically tell someone you want to hang out and then never call them. "I'll never do something like that," I said, and then Seattle-Froze like four people in a month. I couldn't help it! Weird friendship behaviors are contagious, and I was infected. Also, I had a clique at that point, and these weirdos wouldn't really have fit in.
My point is, there's no "right" way to do anything. Which is good, because if there were, odds are it wouldn't be how you do it. And it definitely wouldn't be how I do it, because I'm from the goddamn sea.
JF Sargent is a senior editor and columnist for Cracked and he's not sure if those titles should be capitalized, because nothing is capitalized at sea. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.
We could all just get along if you check out Everday Cultural Stuff You Assume Is Universal (That Isn't), and walk a mile in each other's shoes in The 5 Weirdest Side Effects of Moving to a New Country.
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