Waiting in line

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?

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10 thoughts on “Waiting in line

  1. Dogs have a pack mentality. There is a hierarchy (often used in werewolf stories) with an alpha male and female.

    But interspecies hierarchies are usually decided by the animal with the biggest cohones (figuratively speaking). 🙂

    For my apocalyptic fiction, I let medieval history and the characters’ setting guide me in developing that society.

  2. I’ve had the old-lady example pulled on me. When that happens, I tap their shoulder and tell them to move to the back. If they don’t, I get into a loud argument with them about it. Usually, they’re so ashamed by the volume, and everyone looking at them, that they slink away. Works on young men better than on old ladies, to be honest. On the old ladies, I just deliberately move in front of them again. Age is no excuse for lack of manners.

    I hate queue-jumpers.

    Hey M, which is more correct, “cohones” or “cojones”? I’ve sent it spelt both ways.

    • ref: cohones vs cojones

      I think both are right. English speakers usually write it with an ‘h’, Spanish speakers use a ‘j’ since the ‘j’ is an ‘h’ sound.

      That’s funny because I usually spell it cojones. I must have been in my English-speaking mode. 😀

      Good catch!

  3. You really should make a YouTube video of this. It would be HILARIOUS.

    Also, just a comment on the social order… from my experience, animals know when an elderly / older animal is within their social sphere and give them different treatment (ie. more tolerance), just as they do with baby animals. But then, that’s only one aspect of hierarchy formation… (and it kinda seemed to relate to your Japanese lady example).

    I know that in my own writing, social order is something I need to be more aware of and take more exploratory risks with. It wouldn’t make sense for every story to reflect the rules I grew up with!

  4. My cats have a pecking order, but it has been changing lately as the newest member of the group now outweighs the scariest one. The dog thinks he’s a cat, too, and is the most wimpy of them all.

    The novel I’m working on is set in the 1930s, so it’s a bit before my time, but I interrogated my mother for the details of life during the Great Depression. Her experiences were completely different than those of young people nowadays, but I think/hope it will be a story anyone can relate to.

  5. I thought of you as I was reading agent Kristin Nelson’s blog this morning, so I took that as a sign you might be interested in a webinar she’s giving. It costs $89 but it’s especially for SF&F writers, so perhaps it would be helpful for figuring out why agents aren’t excited over your queries. Agent Nelson will also give a critique of the pitch each attendee submits. Here’s the place to look for more info: http://www.writersdigestshop.com/product/How_to_Write_and_Sell_Fantasy_and_Science_Fiction_Novels_webinar/?r=wdnelson

    Happy Punctuation Day!

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