Hominy & Hash: TABOO!
by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- Are there any left? Taboos, that is. Personally, I still hold a few: for instance, I would never wear a plaid shirt with striped slacks - never - and yet it's perfectly acceptable today, in fact designers plan a line around that concept.
I never wear shoes lighter than my hem, tennis shoes and jeans being the only exception. I won't wear pink lipstick if I'm wearing a red shirt. High heels and blue jeans? Oh, perish the thought, but it's not only commonplace now, I actually paraded all over New York looking for just the right string sandals with spike heels for my grand daughter, not yet 14. We didn't find the right ones, thank goodness.
High heels with socks, socks and a fur coat - these are taboos I will never break. Sometimes I think style changes come about accidentally - like the dance steps the jazz lady picked up on the dance floor in the movie "Airport." The floor was crowded with dancers doing their own thing to the beat "Stayin' Alive."
Across the room, a seedy-looking character was stabbed by the unseen, fleeing hit man. The victim's hands went wildly to his side, while the slim, blonde dancer, saw him, and imitated the "steps;" his elbow bent, reaching around his back, the blonde jauntily did the same, he squatted and turned and writhed, the blonde copied his every move (thrilled at her dexterity) until he succumbed to the wound and fell on his face. Only then, did the dancing throng see what happened.
My point is, when we're sometimes caught up in what looks like the newest craze, we might adopt it as our own without seeing it as it is. Fashion-wise, we imitate the most popular without regard to what has always been fashion sense. Madonna wore a jean jacket with a ruffled skirt; lace mitts and dangling earrings - and, so what if she did? Right then, she set a trend. Her fans became wannabe Madonnas and the markets were flooded with brand new "vintage" clothing complete with frayed hems and torn sleeves.
We do what we want and it becomes our style.
You never wear red to a funeral or black to a wedding. Never? Who says it's taboo? Exactly. Who says? And, since there is no longer an authority figure dictating what we wear or don't, then we are free to express ourselves. However, other taboos still exist about how we look.
We notice that although we are all getting fatter and fatter, on the average having gained seven or eight pounds each in the past 10 years, we don't illustrate this fact by picturing fat people in television and print ads encouraging weight loss. In an article by Laura Fraser, the spokespersons are barely "hefty" when they tout their wares. Hiring an obese person for the job is taboo, yet who would know more about the subject?
Our attitudes on taboos, whether those passing or the few remaining, are quite different around the world and, in a global society, it behooves us to know exactly which taboos are a matter of life and death in other countries. One man's crisp green shirt can mean a lost sale in a country where green is only used to describe the country's hated bordering country.
I learned this when a spectacular, professional, presentation failed because of two things: The drawings offered showed well-groomed business people of the ethnicity of the buyer, but they were dressed in the Western-style clothes of the seller. One man was shown seated casually in a comfortable chair, right ankle over left knee, penny loafers, argyle socks, and that offensive green shirt. They were directed toward the door; back to the drawing board to come up with a setting more congenial to the country purchasing the product or equipment.
In one country a food is a delicacy; in another, it's disgusting. In one African country it is taboo to eat a cricket; in another grasshoppers are not eaten. They are roasted and enjoyed the way we might enjoy snails. These are taboos seriously adhered to just as strictly as I once held firmly to the boundaries imposed by my religion before restrictions were relaxed.
In the days when world travelers were far fewer than they are today, we could hear stories of customs that would make us laugh. Dorothy Fuldheim, a renowned journalist and television news analyst in the forties and fifties, spoke daily on a local television show in Cleveland in the sixties. One story was of being in India, sitting on the floor in a circle of friends and dignitaries, and being served a meat mixture rolled in silver foil. The foil was to be eaten the way you would bite into a tightly wrapped cabbage roll.
Well, Dorothy told us with a shrug: "When in Rome .." So, she made a go of it just as her hosts did and she was no worse for the wear. However, that was 15 years previous to her more recent visit and the same meal was being served. But, now, it was not silver - it was aluminum foil. Since it was taboo to refuse, she worked her best slight-of-hand and did not consume the aluminum foil.
And, we laughed at home and the studio audience roared as she told the story. But, that was about 40 years ago. We were for the most part an American audience enjoying her surprise, embarrassment, and a later-day laugh at herself.
Today, our audience is global and even laughing at ourselves when caught up in another's customs is stepping on their traditions . and their toes. That's taboo in any language.