Habits, Norms and Horns

Uncredited photo from Pixels.com

The good thing about traveling is that it encourages you to view foreign places through a new prism.By foreign I mean the United States.

We spent the last few weeks visiting the East Coast, practicing the native tongue and observing unusual customs.

As we lingered over ice cream one afternoon at an historic mill town in New Jersey—now a refurbished tourist attraction—a car horn blared, interrupting the quiet.

The driver seemed stuck to the horn, angry that the car in front had slowed.

The ice cream vendor ran out to the street, yelling, “You are not welcome in our town! Get out!”

We found the noise level much louder than in our berg in Portland.

Our home cacophony is usually the crows making their morning run to the Columbia River, and their evening-time return.

In New York and New Jersey, car horns blare, trains roll through towns, and sirens seem ubiquitous.

Folks speak with much more vigor and emphasis than our neighbors—yelling in the book shop, grocery store, espresso bar and gas station.

The din rose even higher thanks to piped-in music, which seemed to play everywhere; most notably at the outdoor pub where we shared salads and we could hardly hear each other.

When we drank sweet tea at a diner that looked like a postcard from the 1950s, a piano-player serenaded the lunching locals.

And more than once, we chowed down in a cafe with three big-screen televisions tuned to sports.

Drivers were much more aggressive than what we’re used to—weaving in and out of traffic at break-neck speed.

Yet small towns posted speed limits of 30 miles or less, making our feet feel like lead.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was the lack of masks in the towns where we tarried.

While staff at bodegas and eateries were mostly masked, the locals were mask-free while walking their dogs or buying vendables.

Did they feel risk free?

We learned that COVID-19 rates were moderate to high (depending) so we reasoned the rationale for mask-wearing (or not) was a cultural norm.

Maybe we are all—in the end—simple creatures of habit.








About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
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