Even after fifteen years, my wife, who hails from Caracas, Venezuela never ceases to be amazed by some of the small cultural differences she observes here in Montreal. She has finally become used to seeing people in downtown Montreal dressed for the hot summer weather. Evidently in Caracas, where it is much hotter more often than Montreal, one does not wear ‘beach apparel’ other than at the actual beach.
For our first date lo those many years ago, we arranged to meet at an outdoor cafe. It was August; it was hot and humid. Given the conditions, I wore a golf shirt, sandals, and shorts. It was only some years later when she had observed several summers here, that she admitted that she was somewhat taken aback by my garb that evening. She was apoplectic when I pointed out that at one downtown office I worked at there was a group of women who would, weather permitting, wear bikinis under their business attire and strip down to take some midday sun in a park across the street during lunch.
Another of the idiosyncrasies that conflicts with her view of things is the notion of not speaking to strangers as they get on an elevator. Evidently, the thing to do in Venezuela is to greet folks as you enter an elevator. I have come to realize that Latin Americans are much more social beings than are we North Americans. Now I don’t mean to stifle sociability, but here we tend to employ the look-at-your-feet-ceiling-or-floor-only rule. I’d like to think that this comes from a respect for women who, finding themselves in a small enclosed box may feel uncomfortable with a man greeting her or staring at her.
We men have an advantage with this look at your feet tactic as it greatly resembles the urinal look-at-the-ceiling-rule. No matter how interesting the conversation with your co-urinator may be, keep those eyes upward or, if the establishment has been kind enough to tape a newspaper to the wall, straight ahead. It’s all about peeing, not peeking. If your eyes stray downward they better be trained on your urinal; better to look ceiling-ward.
Not only has this public bathroom etiquette given men a leg-up on elevator decorum, but it has also provided us with some practice of the look-at-the-mother’s-eyes only rule when in close proximity to, or conversing with a breast-feeder. Once that boob comes out it is eyes up fellows. Of course the more mature among us will explain that a breast with a wee one latched onto it is somehow less of a breast. That breasts being used for what they were intended for are not at all titillating (a great word in this context). Ladies, a word in your ear, next time a man tells you that, boot him in the cojones. He’s scamming you. A boob is a boob is a boob; whether your bikini top falls off at the beach (or downtown park), or you’ve got a pair of twins on the twins, it’s all the same to us!