I’m a nice guy. Polite (usually). Considerate (mostly) and I think I am appreciative of any good will that comes my way and, in turn, extend it when needed by others. You know……….the Golden Rule kinda thing? Nice guy?
Well, I have learned over the last few years that I was not, in fact, doing it right. Not as nice guy as I should be, ya know? Thought I was. But I wasn’t.
In a way, it is kinda like knife and fork etiquette. I had no idea I was supposed to put my knife and fork in a parallel position off to the side of the plate a bit to indicate to the host or waiter that I was finished. Until my early sixties, I figured that the utensils being NOT in my hands (higgledy-piggledy nearby, as it were) and there being NO food left on my plate to eat was enough of an indicator for all and sundry who had any vested interest in my current state of food consumption. Turns out I was wrong.
Sal straightened me out one day, “I can’t believe that you got this far in life without knowing about the proper position of your knife and fork when you were done! You are a Neanderthal, ya know that?”
And so it is that the label fits when it comes to reciprocity as well. I’ve been delinquent in my evolution. Seems most people – out here anyway – expect tit for tat in reciprocity situations. Except for obvious and immediate situations I’ve never thought that way, myself. I am naturally more of the ‘what-goes-around-comes-around-school’, myself. ‘It will all work out in the end’. Or, rather, I was. I am changing.
Now I am going for and giving up the tits and the tats in a timely manner.
You see, I grew up without a lot of culture. Went to thirteen different schools before I graduated. Lived in over thirty different houses, apartments mansions and boats. Neighbourhoods and cities and even countries were mostly always different, new, changing. I just didn’t ‘get’ a lot of ‘community habits’ from others. Just the way it was for me.
Don’t get me wrong – I got manners. By God, I got manners. Well, by MOM, really. My mother and my father were always BIG on manners. I got manners.
But reciprocity is different from just plain good manners. It was to me, anyway. In the city, you don’t really have to reciprocate much. Typically, it is a paid-for stranger doing something for you (barista at Starbucks, waitress at a sushi restaurant, gas jockey, ticket agent……..you know) and the way to ‘pay back’ is to pay the money.
Even when they are extra good, you give extra money (a tip). In the city, civil reciprocity is usually done with an exchange of money at the very least, verbal gratitude and repeat business sometimes and, perhaps hospitality, token gift giving (flowers, a free coffee) or even friendship at the extreme end.
People still give, of course, to each other. It is not that I am saying urban people have lost their humanity. I would often give to strangers or acquaintances in the city. Still do. And I never expected anything in return. It was just the way it was. Or, rather, just the way it had to be. I’d give to Jack. I’d help Bill. I’d provide pro bono services to Jill and, so what? Janice would buy my lunch some day, Terry would help me when I needed it and Brian would become friends. It was sort of a universal ‘what-goes-around-comes-around’ system that didn’t require payment on the spot. I kept accounts by the feel-good system.
And I felt good.
Looking back on that , I think it is a view held more by urbanites and, perhaps a bit more by people like me – the ones who moved around. We simply can’t take all the petty debts that accrue with us all the time. Nor do we expect them to be paid when owed to others. Same reasons – distance, time, frequency of encounters, community involvement and logistics. Too fluid. Too many people. I think that is why – to an extent – the begging/spare change syndrome happens in the city and not-so-much in the village.
Anyway, out here it is definitely different. People have a way of ‘settling up’ out here. I did a guy a favour and forgot about it. Next thing you know, there is a salmon left for me. No note. Just a thank-you salmon. And I know who left it. You just do. Maybe a few weeks later you see the guy. It is up to me to say, “Hey, thanks for the salmon, eh?” And the circle was squared.
I remember the first time it happened (and it was in the city, surprisingly). I had some tires for sale and some wheels. But the tires were on different wheels and I wanted those ones back. A native guy came to see ’em, wanted them and was happy to do the swap-over. So, I gave him the whole lot, shook his hand and said, “Do it at your convenience. If I am not here, just let yourself in the side door and leave the ‘settling up’ on the counter.” He agreed.
The next day I went out to the ‘side door’ counter and there was a package. In that package was a set of carved moose antlers. I was quite surprised. I did not expect the exchange to have been consummated so soon and I had no need for carved moose antlers. I was a bit confused but I just carried on and he eventually came back a week later with my wheels and the money. And I was there. I gave him the moose antlers back. “How come you left me moose antlers, Jack?”
“Collateral. To show you that I would honour my word and bring back the wheels.”
“Oh. Thanks. But I didn’t need that. I trusted you.”
“Not the way I do things. Nice doing business with you. Good bye.”
It was illustrative of a system I was just not aware of. This guy was one-on-one personal. And honest. And ‘in-the-time-frame’. No group ‘what-goes-around’ crap for him. For him, it was him and me. Manno y manno. Like, right now!
And so it is out here. You do something for a person, they make sure they do something nice for you. It is never money. In fact, it is usually something very personal. Sometimes it is something they made or grew or caught. Sometimes it is something they know you like (one great neighbour knits people hats! And they are great!). And it doesn’t have to be overly timely. One fellow I assisted ‘gave back’ a year later.
I guess what I am saying is that I not only learned the ‘goes-around method’, I have also now learned the tit-for-tat method and, out here, we tend to the latter. This is important to know if you are living rural. It is the norm. Our new rural world is not really big enough for the ‘goes-around’ method and so, when a favour is done, I have to flick into tit-for-tat thinking or else I may drop the ball.
I still screw up on the knife and fork thing now and then. But Sally helps me by signalling me with an arched eyebrow, a stern look and a gesture whereby she lifts her own utensils to model the proper behaviour. I am trying to be more tittish and tattish on the favour-exchange etiquette but it is still a bit foreign to me.
But I am learning. Weird lessons in life, eh?