Culture Comparisons

A couple of people we met during the course of Penguicon had also visited Salt Lake City. They talked about the “weird vibe” they felt there. Howard laughingly compared it to Invasion of the Body Snatchers and both times the person laughed and said “That’s it exactly.”

Since those conversations I’ve been pondering how I feel about being a participant in a culture which feels like Invasion of the Body Snatchers to those outside it. There is a significant homogeneity to LDS/Mormon culture. It comes from shared religion and shared neighborhoods built into tight knit little communities. In many ways, Utah is like hundreds of small towns all smashed up against each other. You get the in-everyone-else’s-business nosiness of interested neighbors along with the benefits of neighbors who watch out for each other. From the inside, this culture feels very safe and predictable. People raised there are often afraid of what may lay outside. This is unfortunate, because outside are a lot of amazing people worth knowing.

Human brains are wired to pay attention to things that are different from what they normally see. This is why a visitor comes to Salt Lake City and may feel uncomfortable. The locals are acting in near unison according to social norms that are foreign to the visitor. This same discomfort happens to me when I visit elsewhere. At Penguicon I was bombarded by social situations which were just slightly askew of what I am accustomed to. Add to that fact that I moved through several different social circles within the convention, each with it’s own rules. I spent time with writers, with webcartoonists, with Con com staff, and with Aegis. In passing I saw a dozen other social groups. It really was a lot to take in and analyze so that I did not commit any faux pas.

Upon returning home, Howard and I had the opportunity to describe the convention to people here in Utah. I quickly realized that my descriptions were creating a much wilder picture of the convention than was actually true. The truth is that I’ve seen the same sorts of silly/fun/play behaviors here in non-drinking, strict dress-code Utah as I saw at Penguicon. The costumes are different, but the desires to relax and be accepted are the same.

I do not believe that everyone can just get along with everyone else. I know that there are fundamental conflicts of belief which people need to fight for. But I also believe that there is far more common ground to be had that some people are willing to admit. I have to believe in that common ground, because I found comfortable places at Penguicon and I am wonderfully comfortable here at home in Utah. Part of me thinks it is strange that this should be true. But mostly I am just glad of it.

1 thought on “Culture Comparisons”

  1. In John Ringo’s book “The Last Centurion” he talk a lot about Hi Trust communities. One of the things that I think sets Utah apart is our extremely Hi Trust communities. If you move in this state most of the time you will have help that comes from groups beyond the familial one, or if you get sick or have a baby. When people visit I think that they sense this and are not used to it. It makes the whole state have that weird feeling

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