Friday, July 14, 2006

More Public Behavior

With great fear and trepidation I made by way to the Arapahoe County Department of Motor Vehicles today to negotiate a tricky procedure. My wife was the mastermind, of course; I am the messenger (and a very inept one). But why write of this? Again, I was able to observe public behavior during unavoidable down time. This DMV--all DMVs are "run by Satan," according to one of my students--has several rows of pews for people to wait in. I am serious: genuine, wooden pews. However, I found no crosses or altars. In fact, the room also miraculously lacked a television.

I came and took number 76. The first number called was in the 40s. This would not be quick. So, noticing the pews were pretty much filled, and not finding a pulpit to fill, I took a spot on the floor and began to read a Bill Craig paper on the kalam cosmological argument, which I would teach from later that day in Apologetics--and what fun that was! But back to the DMV. Horrible music was playing (but not too loud) in the background. I had to try to tune out cell phone chatter and the intermittent recitations of numbers by the workers. (For some reason, every time I go there, many numbers are called in vain. What happened to these people? A deep mystery, it is...: "Forty-seven, FORTY-SEVEN?! Forty-eight..." Perhaps the missing numbers experienced extreme TV withdrawl and had to scurry home to turn on a set.

While there, I noticed that only one or two of twenty to thirty people there were reading anything or even talking to each other. They were just sitting there, slouched over, with vacant and bored expressions on their faces, looking around the room or looking at nothing at all. If it were Africa, they would be talking to each other or bartering for a better number or dancing a bit. When in doubt, Africans dance. When in doubt, Americans zone out, it seems.

What does this say about us? Henry David Thoreau: "You cannot kill time without wounding eternity." The Apostle Paul: "Redeem the time, for the days are evil."


Small Group Guy said...

I think we go to places like the DMV with the expectation of boredom and druggery. If you were to go to the DMV and come back and say "I had a great time at the DMV" people would look at you like you were nuts.

Not to many people think outside of the box when it comes to things like that. Probably another reason that we should all kill the "idiot box" that infests our society. No one wants to be anything but a stereotype.

daveterpstra said...

I like to take an extra ticket and sell it to people who are just walking through the door for $5.

Actually, I've never done that, but I think about it every time I'm in there.

Fletcher said...

Why is it that we Americans are introverts around strangers and often overtly obnoxious around those who we know?

I've noticed this contrast quite a bit when traveling to other countries. People you've never met actually do want to talk to you, and ask you questions even... in public. They even invite you into their homes!

What is it about our society that makes us different than say, Africans, in this regard? Is it that we are too spoiled and consumed by our possessions to honor (or even acknowledge) the presence of other people?

I wonder what you all think...

Dan Edelen said...

Is it possible that many Americans are just tired? Increasingly, people are getting six hours of sleep or less a night. The average work week is almost fifty hours a week, while commutes are also increasing.

Other reasons exist than what you're postulating.

Fletcher said...

Sure, other reasons exist... I was just suggesting some of the possible and even likely explanations. I did not go through all possible reasons - but your arguments seem reasonable.

What happens when we're tired? Do we go to the DMV and just stare at the floor instead of turning to the person next to us and saying "what are you in here for?" and starting a friendly conversation?

gimmepascal said...

Here is the African response to the situation described by Dr. Groothuis: a fraudulent DMV shop would be opened three blocks away in a decrepit alleyway where the rates would be cheaper and where you could also buy glucose biscuits, Coca-cola, and cheap flashlights that last approximately fifteen minutes before giving out. In time, neither the public nor the police is sure which is the legitimate office. Or better yet, they would recognize the legitimate shop, but would be unable to determine which shop is actually less corrupt.

Yes, there would be much conversation and possibly dancing, and negotiations and deals being made. The whole affair would be made into a joyous social event. But if you wanted to sit quietly and read a book, some might find you unsociable and rude. And if you are a woman, you can be sure that a man who is in a hurry will bypass you without a second thought. He might even command you to go and buy him a chicken.

Fletcher said...

Coincidentally I went to the DMV this morning as well. Much of the same, they were calling out numbers to people that didn't exist (and it was only 7:30 in the morning, had they already gone?). I sat next to a guy who looked to have Arab heritage. The way that he looked at me made me feel like we were at odds with each other... so I cheerfully said "good morning!" to him, hoping to have a conversation. His response was an "approving" sort of nod, then he looked down at the floor, and then he turned his head the other way.

The guy on the other side of me was immersed in "flight instructor" magazine.

So I sat and waited while there were a good 6 to 8 employees behind their desks, but only two were actually calling out numbers and helping customers. That was frustrating.