I spent the last 7 days at the Association of Black Sociologists and American Sociological Association conferences, so that is why you missed me(well I’m sure at least a few folks didn’t miss me LOL!). This trip was my first visit to Montreal, and it actually inspired me to write a post, which I hope to put up within the next couple days. This is an annual trip for me, so every year for a week in the first half of August I’ll be gone. These academic conferences always serve multiple purposes, so I am really busy. Besides getting another line on the resume (which we call curriculum vitae in academia–I don’t know why), networking with other sociologists, and checking out the latest books, it really is a good chance to catch up on old friends that I haven’t seen in a year. This year I also spent a great deal of time helping my school search for job candidates, which was an all day marathon. Even though I was busy, I had fun, and I have several posts in my mind that the trip inspired.
The other kind of interesting part of the conference for my is exploring the local culture. Local culture refers to norms, customs, beliefs, and the nonmaterial culture of a particular place. Nonmaterial culture could include the architecture, the roads, the cars, clothing, and any other sorts of tangible elements of the people in a particular area. Many people use the conference as an opportunity to explore the tourist locations, museums, and historical landmarks, but I like to people watch. I was initially worried that the French language of the Quebecois would be difficult to navigate, but that was not a problem because almost all of the people I needed to talk to spoke English. Plus, I was also reminded of how much of language is nonverbal anyways. Several cultural norms stood out to me, now keep in mind I’m not generalizing to everybody here, but I noticed somethings that I don’t see so much of in the cities I have lived in.
One of the first things I observed about Montreal was the incredible number of outdoor cafes. These cafes were full, too. It was almost like a requirement that you ate outdoors. That could be the French/European influence on the city. I’m not really sure. I also noticed how slow the pace seemed when I was at a cafe. People stayed for a really long period of time, and it took an eternity to get a bill unless you specifically requested it. In fact, I only saw one fast food place–Tim Horton’s. The eating culture there was really different, from the types of food, to the portions, to the price, and the fact that I could not get a free refill in on an iced tea.
The walking pace was also much slower. I found myself passing people routinely. I realized that the east coast of the US, especially the NYC area is really fast paced. I know people talk about “New York minutes” all the time, but I didn’t realize how much that sort of mentality had crept into me. I guess because I usually feel slow in New York.
I made several other observations–people wear really dark clothes, the city was more racially diverse than I expected, etc, but what stood out for me the most was the pace and the eating culture. So this long ramble leads me to my serious question of the week. If I came to your town or city, what aspects of the local culture would stand out? This is kind of a difficult question for people to answer, especially if they have not lived outside of their local area, primarily because almost all people tend to be at least somewhat ethnocentric. We tend to see our own cultural norms as normal, natural, and superior. So I’ll also extend this question. What are some of the local cultural norms that have stood out in the cities that you have visited?