Recently I had a conversation with a beloved man in my life where I shared this increasingly circulated nugget by Gavin de Becker with him:

“Most men fear getting laughed at or humiliated by a romantic prospect while most women fear rape and death.”

This sentence resonates deeply with me, angers me, and explains the feminine heightened awareness acuity that’s been running through me for as long as I can remember. The skill of being able to read people and situations is a gift and a curse. It’s a learned skill and as I move throughout the world, it’s a skill that more people should but don’t always have in their interacting-with-other-cultures arsenal.

On a related note, summer is here which means travel season for me and many others. I’ve had the great fortune to travel and work in Japan for several summers and it is such a gift. Since I’m American, one of my favorite aspects of traveling in Japan is being immersed in collectivist culture. If we’re measuring cross cultural communication on a continuum, you’ll find collectivist culture on one side and individualist cultural on the other. In simple terms, collectivist culture’s priority number 1 is the group while individualist culture’s priority number 1 is the individual. It should come as no surprise that the country that rates the highest for individualism is the United States while Japan rates the highest for collectivism.

For visually-oriented people (heyyy my peeps!), here’s a simple diagram of what I’m talking about:

Collectivist (Japan) —————————————|————————————— Individualist (United States)

I’m not here to romanticize either cultural orientation. They both have beneficial and disadvantageous aspects in how they play out in real life. I’ll dive into this in another blog post some day, but the take away for now is that I feel a lot more calm and way less anxious being immersed in the collectivist versus the individualist. The collectivist can be maddening at times, but mostly I feel safe and calm.

Back to the situational awareness bit that I promised you: my plane rides in the past from the United States to Japan have had a very collectivist vibe to them. Mostly filled with Japanese people, these flights have set the tone for me and welcomed me into tranquility which is a Godsend I relish after being immersed in the spazzy ME ME ME orientation of the United States. In that metal cylinder in the sky, the rules shift. All of a sudden, public space is revered and cared for. People are quiet with their actions. People are aware of their bodies which is so essential always but even more importantly on an airplane in confined space.

I always look forward to this airplane transition into calm, but this year my beloved and anticipated tranquil transition was disrupted. Because the plane was filled with not one, but two groups of loud and messy American teenagers who seemed to be caffeinated for the entire 10 hour flight and beyond. It was filled with young American children who made an impressive mess of their seat area that spread to a 3 seat radius and crossed the aisle to me. No exaggeration. Multiple times my seat was kicked, loud teenage conversations about hair and allergies were privy to me and everyone else in economy class, and I helped a 6 year old boy clean up his trash that flung my way across the aisle and gave him a napkin when he spilled his ranch dressing on the dark blue carpet. At the end of the flight, his seat looked like a toddler had a tantrum at a rave. Imagine taking a bag of chips, flinging them around you on the carpeted floor, and stomping them into tiny orange pieces. That’s what his seat area looked like at the end of the flight. He and the boy behind him constantly let their bags and jackets fall into the aisle which really bothered me. I wanted to help them and I did a few times, but damn, I’m not their parents. Did I want to spend my precious movie-watching flight time educating these boys on how to exist in shared space? Heck no. See how quickly I can hop back to individualism when it conveniences me? You can take the American out of the United States, but you can’t fully remove her individualism or so the saying goes.

If any part of you has identified with these kids or you have a trip coming up soon and you want to be able to explore a country without making a fool of yourself or irritating the people around you, you’re in the right place. Those of us from individualist cultures especially need to pipe it down when we leave the comfort of our VERY LOUD AND PHYSICAL EXISTENCE of our culture and it’s quite easy.

Here are three ways to become more situationally aware:

Read the Room

Stop. Shut up and listen. Read the room. Expand your awareness. Channel your inner Jason Bourne or Major from Ghost in the Shell. Notice what’s around you. How are people behaving? What are people doing or not doing? Are people respecting public space? Whatever the majority of people are doing, mimic that behavior. If you’re in confined space like an airplane, let common sense enter your awareness too. Is it safe or good for people passing by in these small and darkly lit paths to be tripping over your shoes and possibly clobbering other passengers when they fall? No? Then stop doing that.

Mimic

This part is easy: do as others are doing. This skill can be transferred to action as well as listening and language and social and physical cues. Notice what others are doing and do that. Don’t do what they are not doing and don’t make a fool of yourself. A win-win for everyone.

Rest

Notice the energy expended in reading people’s energies and non-verbal cues and how exhausting it can be. If you’re a man, understand that this is what women are doing all the time. If we seem more tired or hungrier than usual, it’s because we’ve spent a lot of our energy reading people’s energies and trying to figure out if they are going to rape or murder us. This is an unfortunate truth, but it also makes us exceptionally and acutely aware of what people are doing.

Shhh

I promised you three, but here’s one more: if you’re in a group of people in a confined situation like an airplane for 10 hours, try not to be so loud. I know it’s hard, but if you don’t join your friends in loud banal conversation on an airplane and tell them why you’re being quiet, they’ll follow your lead. Give it a try. Teenagers: I’m talking to you. No one cares about the state of your hair or that plane air makes you sneeze. If you’re going to be loud, at least find a juicy and substantive topic of conversation for me and others to eavesdrop on.

Has summer travel driven you nuts in some way? I’d love to hear your story. Leave a comment below!

Breathe and believe, beauties.

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