We have one big water bowl or all four pets, and I laugh out loud when they form a line for it.
It’s never a very orderly line. JJ, my oldest cat, always cuts to the front, and since the dogs are afraid of him, they don’t make a fuss. He will only yield his place to Roxie, my little female cat, and the dogs won’t try to take her place because of JJ.
Roxie’s a line-cutter, too, but if she wants to get in front of a dog that’s already drinking, she’ll sit next to them and gently tap on their heads. She doesn’t use her claws, just pats them like she’s petting them, and after a second, they get so freaked out that they move out of the way. The dogs themselves don’t cut; one will wait patiently until the other is finished before taking her turn.
Roxie’s pat-pat way of cutting reminded me of a little old lady in Japan who cut through crowds by tapping the person in front of her on the back. (She did this to me and then I watched her go through the crowd ahead.) She tapped me in the small of the back with her knuckle, and she was so short I couldn’t see her over my shoulder, so when I turned around, she slid past me while I was sideways. I watched her move all the way to the front of a very dense crowd like that.
Why am I going on about all this? I’m thinking of culture in all its intricacies. Even my pets seem to have a mini culture with rules and a pecking order, all for various reasons. No one called out the little old lady, even though cutting in line seemed like a big deal in Japan. She was elderly and clever, and I think people were amused by her more than anything. I know I was.
Everything I know about animals tells me that the biggest and strongest should rule, or at least the smartest, but it’s little JJ, my 10 lb elderly cat, who pushes everyone else around in my house. Polly, my largest lab at over 75 lbs, could kill him easily, but I’ve never had to yell at a dog to leave JJ alone. He doesn’t hesitate to use his claws. In my little pack, the meanest is in charge, and he weighs less than everyone else.
When I create a society from scratch, I try to make up social codes and mores that explain why people behave how they do, even though those explanations rarely make it in the actual text. And I think being around micro societies like my pets’ have taught me to think outside the box where societies are concerned. The biggest and most powerful might not always rule. If it’s a medieval or Renaissance sort of society, women can be on equal footing with men (or like in Melanie Rawn’s Exiles series, the dominant sex) as long as there’s plausible history behind it. And we might forgive our elderly or our clever as long as they amuse us. Hmm, now I might have to create a culture that favors humor over everything. The funniest is in charge…
Do you pull your made-up societies from those around you? Does your faraway past or future look just like a specific culture we have now? If you write in the present day and in your area, do you use the cultural rules you grew up with or try to look closer at modern behavior?