Local social graces and habits

There are so many…..what to choose first………?

Let’s start with building.  When a person is in the building stage (which can last for years), they cannot go through anybody else’s door, entry or room without noting how the work was done.  They can’t pass a wall without checking it for being plumb, flat and square.  All joinery is examined closely.  Plumbing is examined by climbing under the house with a flashlight. Counter tops are not admired so much as post analyzed for ease of transport, installation and local content.  People in the building stage become ad hoc, de facto building inspectors, they really do.  And they can’t help themselves.

To some extent the ‘inspector‘ stage diminishes once the person has worked through their own building period but the longer that time took, the longer the amateur inspector stage lingers.  We have guys who have spent their whole lives building and now, tho mostly retired from the work, can still be seen eyeing a wall or a roofline with a critical gaze.  And that applies to chicken coops, docks, lean-tos and whatever else they can relate to in a ‘can I build it?’ sense.

Urban people tend to take the basic construction for granted.  Who examines the concrete in a highrise or the installation of an escalator?  Urbanites look at ‘finishes’,  decor, style and the latest technology.  “Ooh, you have an ultra-thin flat screen TV?  And I love the Subzero fridge.” They don’t wonder about how it is constructed or how it was installed.   They like how it looks, how it functions and what kind of statement it makes.

The off-the-gridder (OTG) would look at them both and ask, “What kind of power does it draw?  Are they both on their own circuits?  How big is your panel?”  It’s a fundamental difference in looking at the same things.

The first and easiest place to notice this behaviour is in how we react to seeing a building.  The second easiest one is in our preoccupation with power sources and consumption.

The third observation is often how the toilet works but we’ll do that some other time.

The fourth OTG observation is, “How did you get that here!?”   Why?  Because logistics and materials handling are big deals when you are doing most of it with small vehicles and even smaller boats.  Over rough ground.  Up steep hills.

One of our point-earners with our neighbours is that we have one of those big, old, heavy, wide gas stoves from the 40’s and an almost equally heavy ‘sideboard’ as a piece of furniture.  When we first moved in almost every one commented on both those items – not for their looks or functionality but for their weight and cumbersome nature.  They envisioned Sally and I carrying it all up the hill.  Trust me – anything over 300 pounds gets a second look from everyone up here and anything over 500 is marvelled at.

Another universal OTG quirk of social behaviour is local people ‘bringing‘ something when they visit.  And it is rarely wine or flowers.  Eggs from their chickens, tomatoes from their garden, a fresh-baked loaf of bread, a fish……….?  The hostess gift out here is a crap-shoot.  Could be anything.  DVDs, log dogs, a tool they know you need………  The only thing you can count on is that everyone will have a packsack and in a few of them there will be something for the larder or the tool shed.  Our first winter, one of our neighbours brought a sling of (much needed) dry firewood.

Another brought a sack of deer off-cuttings and bones for the dogs (very well received!).

I suppose it is not quirky so much as practical and real.  We are really just a big outdoor school out here and everyone is learning how to do what they have to do as well as they can.  We learn from each other and what better way to do that than to actually see and feel what was done?  And, since building is the first stage, it only makes sense that it would also show up as amateur construction analysis 101.

If there is a real quirk to the whole thing it is this: everyone is in different stages of skill-developing and knowledge-gathering.  So no ‘reviews‘ from your neighbours are going to sit well as a rule.  And, if their comments do warm the cockles of your heart, you can be assured that many criticisms were omitted.  So the comments on work done are usually pleasant, polite, encouraging and largely disingenuous.  “Used green screws on your decking, I see.  Good job.  Looks good.  Heard that brown ones were better but, really…..a screw is a screw, eh?”

Translation:  “I’d take those screws out if I were you and replace them with the right ones.  Brown ones.  You might want to go up a size so the screw gets a good grip when you go into the old hole.  I don’t think that deck will last the winter, you poor sap!”

The only response:  “Geez, it’s good to see you guys.  Thanks for the bucket of compost (Sally: Yes, that truly was a gift brought by a guest) and the zucchinis.  Can I get you a beer or would you like a glass of wine?”

2 thoughts on “Local social graces and habits

  1. Many organizations crave in its employees the type of observation, monitoring, feedback, self-reflection and adjustment you cite in your post. What you describe is what organizations call a “Learning Community” which they achieve (if they ever do achieve it) after dropping big bucks on some outside pundit parachuted in to opine on a situation they are not qualified to comment on. You are most fortunate to get your worthwhile spontaneous workshops in a timely and cost effective manner.


  2. My neighbour, my consultant, eh? It’s true. They know stuff. And they teach. And we all learn. And it is good. But, like in many areas, there are good teachers and not-so-good. And timing is an issue. Generally our teachers are good but the effect is not always the desired one because – by the time the teacher/consultant comes by – the student has commited his resources or the job is done. Critique is not quite as valuable as ín-advance-of-the-project teaching. Still, it makes the inevitable future repairs easier. I have to say that, in general, we have been very fortunate with our wanderin’ teachers. Most often they came by when we were just starting a project. Mind you, everyone drops in……..and we are always starting projects………so, maybe that’s it?


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