I watched an episode of Star Trek Enterprise last night. It was a first contact situation with the new species visiting the ship. All seemed to be going well until the visitors were taken to eat in the mess hall. The visitors took great offence at seeing people eat in front of them. Whilst for the crew, sharing a meal was a part of building and maintaining relationships, for the aliens eating in front of another was taboo. Eating together is just part of human culture and is expected even if some of us with autism would prefer to eat alone. I recognise that communal eating is important to others in my family so a shared evening meal is the norm whilst I prefer to start the day quietly by myself.
I guess there are different levels of cultures, different assumptions we all make. My personal culture tends to solitude. I am happy to be by myself. Swim and cycle by myself. Take photographs by myself. And perhaps most importantly, think things through by myself. For others in my family, group activities are preferred: working through problems by discussing them, doing chores together, walking together and yes, eating together. Naturally, our family culture is more social even if some of us prefer solitude. We have a local culture too. For instance, it is fine is somebody chats to you at a bus-stop here or at the supermarket check-out. In London though you would be lucky to be acknowledged.
Relationships have to cross cultures if they are to work. I wrote the following piece about a recorded phone call highlighting my expectations about what it was about comparing with what was actually spoken but also showing how personal cultures change with time. I think some of my cultural assumptions could do with some modifications though.
I am awoken by the phone ringing,
What time is it?
Half past nine,
I was awake over two hours ago,
But time has skipped,
The answerphone clicks on,
I hear my wife’s voice,
She is berating for not picking up the phone,
For not responding to her mobile texts,
To not being available when she needs me.
It was the hall phone I heard ringing,
Which means the bedroom extension has run out of juice,
I need to get our of bed,
Get dressed in some sense,
Before I can intercept the call,
But I am distracted by the message,
Why should I always be on call?
It about control I suppose,
I have a right to switch off,
And have some space to myself.
A part of me wonders how I would feel,
If there was an emergency,
But I reason it can’t be that bad,
She is able to talk on the phone,
And another part of me remembers a time,
When we were only good friends,
Saying goodbye at the end of our degrees,
And I told her that if she needed me,
I would travel anywhere,
To help her,
I was idealistic then,
When life seem simpler.
The call has ended but there is an insistent beep piercing my attention,
It is ten minutes after the call started when I get out of bed,
Unable to ignore the aural notification,
Dressed I pad out to the hallway,
There are two corners to negotiate,
But that makes it sound more grand than it is,
I reach the phone in seven or eight paces,
And press the “play” button.
There is only one thing,
That I got right about the message,
It was my wife’s voice,
But instead of a complaint,
The call is a point of information,
The man who wants our tent,
To take his kids camping,
Would like to pop round in the morning and collect it,
Please send me a text or phone call,
To let me know when you are available.
How could I be so wrong?
Why did my mind make such a mess of a message?
And why did I come up with such a negative interpretation?
I switch off the airport mode on my mobile,
I text my wife that I plan to go swimming at 11am,
Then I change my mind and send another message,
I could wait until noon if necessary.
I don’t really want to meet the guy,
But we are doing a good deed,
By giving the tent away,
So I am determined to be helpful.
I suspect it helps that I feel guilty,
Guilty about interpreting a morning phone call,
In the way that I did,
It sounds like my loyalty is still active,
Hidden under the layers of complexity,
That thirty years has produced,
There is a still an idealistic young man,
Who will drop everything,
And answer the call,
To be with his good friend.