Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Cryptic cultural variation   posted by Razib @ 7/25/2006 10:20:00 PM

Over at Sepia Mutiny I learned something new the other day, that not all brown people consider white the color of death! You see, in a review of Parminder Nagra's TV wedding, a brown American writer stated "I did laugh at the effort to bridge cultures, though, when Nagra's character got married wearing a white sari. White is the Hindu color of mourning." Well, not only do South Indian Hindus reject this claim, but white is the color of mourning among Bengali Muslims (personal experience) and in China. Last year an attempt to portray Diwali as the pan-brown Hindu holiday was rejected by some who noted that Bengalis, for one, did not focus on this holiday. I bring this up because as brown Americans we are used to "representing" and "communicating" "our culture" to the greater society, but we often don't really know how our own specific experience blinds us to non-existent generalities. I joked to Manish Vij that someone should write a book for browns about all the things about browns they don't know that they don't know (from this Bengali to other browns, not all browns are hairy & stinky! Especially those of us who are a little chinky :).

But it isn't all ethnic. When I was a freshman in college a girl commented in an offhand manner that "That's so funny that I'm going to pee my pants!" I really didn't "get this," and I had never really understood this assertion, so I asked where it came from. She explained that when people laugh hard they pee. I observed that this never happened to me, and when I asked around the dormitory I found that females understood immediately the reference and many of the males were as confused as I was. It turns out that there were physiological differences between males and females, and the propensity to urinate in response to laughter is more of a "girl thing."

Honestly, I started thinking about this because of prosopagnosia. I mean, "we celebrate diversity," but I'm not sure if we really know how diverse we are....