Captain Crybaby's Charm School for the Terminally Remedial

This topic I intend as a general discussion of etiquette, culture, and communication skills. These are naturally relevant in some way to any discussion, but this is for when discussion of protocol or norms risks becoming a meta-topic which distracts from what is otherwise being discussed.

As a point of departure, one source I have found useful recently is the TTC lecture Customs of the World: Using Cultural Intelligence to Adapt, Wherever You Are, by David Livermore. I find it far more useful for being able to recognize and classify cultural trends than it is for knowing how to adapt to them. He does this mostly by putting forth a list of cultural continua:

Identity - individualist versus collectivist
Authority - low versus high power distance
Risk - low versus high uncertainty avoidance
Achievement - cooperative versus competitive
Time - punctuality versus relationships
Communication - direct versus indirect
Lifestyle - being versus doing
Rules - particularist versus universalist

Certain traditional cultures of the various regions of the Earth have tended, for various reasons, towards certain combinations of tendencies to cluster together. So the idea is that travellers, businesspeople, academics, etc can more readily recognize and adapt to and interoperate with what can be fundamentally different conceptions of self, other, group, space and time - units of interaction so broad and basic that they can be easy for anyone to take for granted.

They can, I think, also be useful for evaluating subcultures, groups of any size, as well as persons. For instance, I grew up knowing of McLuhan even in preschool, and so actually socialized with a “global village” ethos of whatever works, from any time and place in human history. So it can be said that I socialized to a truly synthetic culture. Doesn’t everybody? I think that it can be argued that this does happen, to a greater or lesser extent with many people.

When I don’t know how to adapt, I strive to at least agree to disagree. One example is that I tend towards an extremely dry, declarative style which is direct. By which I mean that I tend to be referring to something explicit, and hope that I can clarify with the listener precisely what that is, without making them guess. Even though I can understand the idea of indirect, implicit communication, I struggle to do it with any facility. For me it’s like saying “If 2+2 wasn’t 4, what number would it be?” My own personal values might be that I have doubts about how realistic or applicable an indiect method may be, but I accept that it is a real methodology which people use. They aren’t going to stop based upon my skepticism, and we are not necessarily better off through agreeing not to communicate.

But when one implicitly assumes that one’s most basic ways of seeing the world are universal (or worse, should be universal) then it can be difficult to avoid perceiving the other as being wilfully obtuse. But insisting that they simply “mind their manners”, “be nice”, or “show some respect” can be analogous to shouting at a person because they don’t already know your language. There might be reasons of temperament or practicality why we might need to concede that effective communication is not always going to happen in the short term.

But perhaps sharing observations and methods here can help!


hmmm… I think I am on board to share experiences or discuss, but I’m not sure I understand the premise all the way. Which is funny, because you (as usual) are using very specific language at great length, but… I’m dumb. I think I need an example.

I will say that I also sometimes have trouble navigating people’s expectations of reciprocal behavior. Studying TV and movies and learning how to be funny has helped. Failing that, I will be honest and direct in a way that makes it obvious that I am breaking protocol but that I am still sincere, that is another strategy. Which in itself has become somewhat of an affectation; although, nonetheless, sincere–as if I am addressing someone from a foreign country, even if they are white american people like myself. It seems to work pretty well. The wrong type of person probably thinks I am simpleminded to do so, but I’m not too concerned about that type, generally.


Humor is invaluable, but can be very tricky. Especially to balance with sincerity.

Paradoxically, if people are feeling adversarial and accuse one of being too self-serious, defusing the situation with humor can have the effect of deepening their doubts. “Oh, look! Before they were being full of themselves, and now they are just trolling us!”

What happens is that I think people look to flesh out such social narratives to establish ingroups and outgroups. So in a relatively informal forum of discussion, people cluster together out of affinity. And for those who they don’t want to be included in the same group with, a group will use whatever that person says as evidence that that person represents the outgroup, The Other. Humorously enough, nearly all people seem to react strongly against anyone who does not make ingroup/outgroup distinctions.


This is a dense thesis, so I will start somewhere near the middle.

OMG, so much this. I tend to call it a protocol mismatch. When I show respect in a specific way, it is often not picked up by the counterparty. And vice versa.

As an anology, using the phrase, “I sincerely thank you” will have subtle yet profound differences in Seattle, Minnesota, and Brooklyn. In the first case it is a general platitude, the second a given, the third almost an insult.


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