Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The "Trappings" of Civilization

Do you suppress yawns and farts in close quarters with others?

A yawn is suppressed because it is impolite to show that one is sleepy when others are not. Sleepiness is the anti-thesis of taking an active interest in the present, and to express disinterest is justifiably considered rude. To not appear rude, most people routinely do a clenched-teeth yawn rather than an open mouth one. No one who is reasonably perceptive is fooled, however. There is an increased flow of blood in the facial region during the yawn, and the eyes become redder. The muscle contractions around the jaw and the lips are unmistakable. People get the message, some may appreciate the "sensitivity" of the yawner for his trying to hide it, others may be slightly pissed that he is sleepy in their company. Such is life.

A fart (is this an instance of Onomotopoeia?) is a more complex phenomenon, to put it mildly. A fart is unfairly considered a sign of indigestion and disease (A misconception. Perfectly normal bodies routinely pass wind, even when not suffering from indigestion.), the sound of a fart is reminiscent of shitting (which is distasteful to most people), and the fart may be smelly, which, especially in close quarters, is quite distressing and distasteful for almost everybody.

I do consider that a smelly fart is a sign of constipation or of an impending visit to the toilet. I consider a healthy fart to be one which is drawn-out (duration-wise) and which doesn't smell at all.

Having been conditioned that a fart is "bad", that farting in public is bad manners, and that a smelly fart is an assault on others' senses, almost everybody tries to suppress it in the company of other people (except perhaps with one's very close family members).

The suppression is of two kinds: total suppression (where a fart is inhibited and the gas travels back into the guts), and surreptitious expulsion. A total suppression is considered unhealthy if it becomes a habit (which it is with most people). Surreptitious expulsion presents two problems: doing it silently and doing it without bending.

A silent fart (called a foosie in Punjabi, is there a word for it in English?) can be nevertheless smelly, but the criminal can feel relaxed if there are two other people in his company. Just one other person makes it impossible to lie.

But if there are at least two others, then the guessing game can start. If you are ever involved in such an incident, and if you are not the polluter, then you can play Dupin and try to suss out the guilty one in this way: The guilty one will usually try to appear overly normal just before the smell comes to the level of everybody's nostrils, and he will usually scowl and make a face as if he is not the one. The innocent will usually not be the first one who overtly reacts to the smell.

It is best not to accuse someone even if you think your detective abilities have born fruit. If you have guessed right, you risk humiliating the other person. If you guessed wrong, you risk a self-righteous chiding (What? Me, Fart? You must be out of your mind!)

Most of us do want to spare others, if we can. To their credit, people employ all kinds of tricks if they see a fart coming. They can make a hurried excuse to leave the room (e.g. look at your mobile phone and inexplicably say "excuse me" and go out) and relieve themselves. A fart's expulsion window is generally 5-10 seconds, after which one can only repent at leisure. (The second chance comes after several minutes, so if the window has passed while you were busy excusing yourself, stay out for a while.)

Another complication is to judge when to return after the deed is done. I advise at least one minute. You hurry at your own peril, as the noxious gases may still be swirling around you. I remember a curious incident during my college days. A few of us were generally chatting in one of our tiny hostel rooms. Suddenly, X went out into the hallway and started knocking at the door of another room, and called out for someone (mobiles were not available then!). When he returned (after less than a minute, for sure), unfortunately we could all smell the reason why he had gone out. He was red-faced at being caught after trying to be so resourceful.

If you are confident that the fart is not going to be smelly, and if you are lazy, you can try expelling it silently without going out. This is extremely tricky. Not only will your neck muscles become noticeably tense, you will be holding your breath and will not be able to speak. If you are sitting and if your ass cheeks are pendulous, you will have to (somehow) make room for the expulsion. An easy way to do it is to drop something on the ground and then bend over. If you are standing, it is more difficult. You must finely control the propulsion energy. Too little, and you will have to do it again. Too much, and you risk a whimper or, God forbid, a sudden blast.

Not farting in public is a sign of courtesy, but if the only alternative is to hold it in, I think one should just say "Excuse me", step back (or out) and let it out.

As for belching, I once read a "Dating tip for Guys" that went something like this: After having a dinner with your date, excuse yourself for (ostensibly) making a phone call or to wash your hands. This gives her a chance to belch in your absence, which she will not do out of embarrassment if you are present.


In Punjabi we have a folk saying:

Nichh, Padd tey Dakaar
Tinney Deh daa Shingaar

(Belching, Farting and a Sneeze
All three adorn the body, please!)

(Image courtesy AmericanScientist.org)


Anonymous said...

ha, ha....what a thesis on 'trappings'. All the quoted instances are considered impoliteness and hence means are devised to cover them up. Nothing wrong with all that and even excusing oneself, either on one's own account or that of others is another way to tackling it all. What is worth mentioning is that how we react and tackle these things, when alone. We revel in release of gas because of the relief and even laugh at the loud noise, sometimes.

Dating tip is something that has been practiced for long, especially, in civil societies like England and upper echelons.
Manuals were drawn up and taught and followed about these things.
A lot of dating tips , these days, are improvisations on all of those.
But what has not change is the reference to these manuals and their following.

Anonymous said...

you must have meant Onomatopoeia. Although a rhetorical question was put in your post on that, yes it is the implied case and so is snort, snore, belch etc.