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There are rules and there are rules.  Starting with the Ten Commandments.  Those are some rules.  Then there is the Golden Rule (treat others as you would want to be treated).  Wait an hour to go swimming after you eat.  We know those rules.  They are recorded and repeated frequently.  There used to be a lot more rules, as any student of literature or film knows.  In Jezebel, Bette Davis is doomed for wearing red to a ball (there were other things, but that was the big ol’ “symbol alert”).  In Anna Karenina, Anna has to throw herself under a train for violating the rules (against adultery, against being a crappy mother).  A lot of these rules were just a way to keep women and other assumed inferior people down.  So yes, it is fantastic that many ridiculous rules have gone the way of the hoop skirt.  But we haven’t quite developed our societal shorthand for this modern world.  We’ve only had about a century, so it isn’t like there is a rush.

Why this speculation on rules?  Well, since most of us live in cities, we are constantly out in society; at work, in the stores, riding the bus….  And I’ve got to say, we seem to be at sea as to how to interact with each other sometimes.  What is the conversational etiquette when you see someone you know?  What if you don’t know them well?  What if they just look familiar?  Do you stare awkwardly and make stilted small talk?  Would it just be better to smile and nod?  Or chuck the whole thing and avert your eyes to avoid this sticky wicket?  What about when you’re riding the bus, and someone is sitting across the aisle from you.  You are each in the other’s line of vision.  You don’t know each other.  Do you look at them?  Do you avert your gaze, even if it seems unnatural?  Do you pray that another seat opens up so you can flee?

I used to think I was the only one who seemed unsure of what to do.  After gaining a little perspective, I see that we are all confused on how to interact with the human race at large.  No wonder everyone is so focused on their cell phones and iPods – technology has allowed us to completely sidestep the issue.

And if you think I’m going to forget my iPod again, you’ve obviously never spent a thirty-minute bus ride trying not to make eye contact with the stranger sitting directly across from you.

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