Saturday, November 14, 2009

Possession is ten-tenths as far as I`m concerned

posted Sun, 05 Dec 2004

At mass this morning, I started to wonder what values might truly be universal. What prompted my pondering was noticing the latecomers who would sometimes want those already seated just to move toward the center of the pew so they – the latecomers – could sit at the end of the pew, which I think is the most desirable place to sit.

My feeling is that if you are late, you should sit in the middle of the pew. If you want one of the good seats, get to church on time.

One of the best things about having a boyfriend who works for an airline is that I fly for free – if there is space. Even better, we usually get to sit in first class!

One of my grad school professors said that anthropologists have found only three values to hold across all cultures: hospitality, reciprocity and the taboo against incest. I don’t know, though – didn’t the Egyptian royalty have to marry siblings?

So the question becomes, why is this a value for us and is it a value in other cultures – that the first person to occupy a space is the rightful owner of it? I know that legal property rights are far more defined in the US and western Europe than they are in other countries, but what I am talking about is more of a psychological concept of temporary ownership.

I notice people trying to violate this norm on airplanes. At least, they try with me. I used to have to travel a lot for my job, so became very picky about where I sat. I wanted that aisle seat so made sure that I reserved it.

I got on a flight once and there was a kid, maybe 11 or 12, in the middle seat next to me. His mother was across the aisle from me in the two-seat section. The flight attendant asked if I would change seats with the kid so he could sit next to his mom. I looked at the kid, looked at the mom two seats away, and thought, “forget it.” It wasn’t like he was a little boy needing his mother, and even if he did, they were close enough.

I told the flight attendant no, but the lady behind me volunteered. Then the mom got the person sitting next to her at the window to switch with her kid, who was now in an aisle seat, so the kid had a window seat.

The lady behind me ended up sitting in the middle seat the entire flight – and then we realized ten minutes into the flight that the dad was sitting in front of us – in the window seat. The kid wanted to sit at the window, which is understandable, but the dad was not willing to let his kid have his seat – but he was perfectly willing to let perfect strangers graciously surrender their seats on his child’s behalf.

I’ll bet that lady never switched seats again.

I had learned my lesson years ago, when I was on a flight from Miami to San Antonio. It was jam-packed full. I had, as usual, an aisle seat. This big, tall guy came down the aisle, stopped next to me. He had the middle seat. When I got up to let him in, he assured me, “Oh, that’s OK. You can just move over.”

“Do I look stupid?” I asked him in amazement.

He laughed. “It was worth a shot,” he said.

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