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Breakfast toast & the curse of culture.


I make a request for toast at a breakfast buffet and the guy behind the counter reaches for the loaf with his hands. I am not happy. I don’t want him touching anything I’ll be eating. However the thing is, it ain’t his fault. Despite probably all the teaching and training, reaching for the loaf with their fingers is what comes naturally to most people this part of the world. Yeah, even in the food business. In fact that’s default behaviour, courtesy culture.

In the Indian subcontinent eating with your hands is the norm. It’s part of culture. No one bothers having a second thought about the practice as it part of our unquestioned everyday life. If hands are used to eat, they will be issued to make and serve. It doesn’t matter that the time and place is a commercial breakfast buffet. Now these kinds of unconsciously extended behaviour is true for all cultures. If you think about the effect of culture long enough, you’ll see that much of people’s thoughtless everyday acts are prompted by the ‘invisible hand’. To me that is unfortunate to say the least. Though the cultural norms and practices we imbibe unconsciously make it easy for us to go about our everyday lives, it does us all a disservice by eliminating cognitive effort that is supposed to precede behaviour.

If the guy behind the counter has to switch from his hands to using tongs he will have to make a cognitive effort to shake off culture’s stranglehold. Extrapolate that, and this is what you get. You wanna change a regressive society you will have rid it of a regressive culture. As long as culture stays, default behaviours stay. Now is it possible to abandon culture? My answer, no. The only way to make culture, or at least a part of it to go away is to bring other cultures in and get them to assimilate. The good news is, that’s already happening. Around the world. That is, foreign cultures are criss-crossing and are coming in via tech. and media infrastructures. They’ve already begun their behaviour changing act. The evidence is in altered social behaviour.

Now as for me, I have hope about my toast. It may take a while, but change is coming.

Rejoice, people. 

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