Assumed normal

People always seem to assume other people are ‘normal’ (i.e. like them). Here’s a random list of five ways I’ve been assumed normal.

1. ‘Hope the roads are clear!’

I told at least a dozen people we were going to Inverness for Christmas, and without exception, they expressed concern that the A9 (the main road north) would be clear, only for me to reply that we were going by train (our usual mode of medium- to long-distance travel).

The typical journey time by train, at around three and a quarter hours, is comparable with the fastest non-stop journey time by car (even though the railway route is somewhat longer). In wintry conditions, travelling by car would be much slower than by rail (as well as being less comfortable and more dangerous).

When, I seem to recall, just under 40% of households in Edinburgh have no access to a car (ours among them), it’s odd for car-owners to assume that everyone else drives, or would even want to drive, everywhere.

2. ‘Turkey and all the trimmings?’

Another Christmas-related one. As predictably as talking about the weather and travel arrangements, people love to talk about what you’re going to eat at Christmas, and the assumption is that you’ll be complicit in the slaughter of a large bird.

For us vegetarians, a lot of the traditional trimmings can be pretty tasty, and pretty filling too: I don’t usually feel a desperate need for something for them to accompany, least of all the carcase of an animal.

And on a non-Christmas-related note, our church has a thing about bacon rolls being an enticement to get people to come to an early-morning church meeting. But little could be less enticing for me than the smell of burning pig flesh.

3. ‘Just a wee dram for the bells!’

A New Year one here (though not from this year). Some people think that any adult who’s not a recovering alcoholic or designated driver will obviously want to celebrate certain occasions by consuming a token quantity of a fortified beverage.

In my late teens and early twenties, I drank to excess, mainly to overcome my social inhibitions and forget about how depressing the world seemed. Then I realised that I hated being hungover and didn’t particularly enjoy being drunk either. So I limited myself to the occasional single glass of white wine, sloe liqueur or mead. I never liked red wine, and I soon realised I didn’t actually like beer and wasn’t quite as partial to single-malt whisky as I had once thought.

For almost two years, I’ve been taking antidepressants and haven’t been able to drink alcohol at all. I can’t say I’ve really missed it. And I went to bed a couple of hours before midnight on Hogmanay: I didn’t miss the lack of sleep either!

4. ‘It’s great when the whole family’s together!’

Again, not such a recent example. This Christmas was relatively quiet, with just six of us sharing a low-key Christmas lunch. But my sister (whose family didn’t join us last month) would much prefer it if there were at least twice that number (as is often the case). As far as she’s concerned, the more fuss, volume and chaos, the better.

I can cope with small family gatherings, but there’s a critical number of people (probably not much more than six) at which I become overwhelmed. In such situations, I need to spend most of my time hidden away somewhere by myself, recharging my batteries. So, no, it’s not great when everyone’s together – and there’s no one in particular to blame.

Weddings are another social situation that I find uncomfortable. I love wedding services (the actual getting-married bit), but wedding receptions are almost invariably excruciating. I don’t think I started going to weddings until after I’d stopped getting drunk (unfortunate timing there!). The only reason I’d quite like to be invited to a wedding now is the possibility of getting to wear a nice dress (which might just be compensation enough for the extended period of social awkwardness).

5. ‘Can I get you anything else, sir?’

This was in a restaurant last weekend, where I was constantly addressed by the waiter as ‘sir’, though in such an ambiguous, tacked-onto-the-end-of-every-utterance kind of way that I could never be quite sure that’s what they were saying (and so couldn’t really correct them).

The assumption that someone like me couldn’t possibly actually be a woman but is more likely to be a man dressing up as a woman (or whatever it is that goes through these people’s heads) is, frankly, depressing.

Am I normal?

I assume I’m not. But then who is?

3 responses to “Assumed normal”

  1. 1. Having so often driven from Edinburgh (or further south) to Braemar or Ballater, taking the A93, it is a fairly natural assumption that people going to Inverness would take the A9. That said, the only time I can *remember* going all the way to Inverness it was by train. There is, sadly, no longer a train route to Ballater. Even more sadly, my parents moved to Yorkshire recently and I no longer have a reason to drive up to the Highlands twice a year.

    2. We used to have turkey, but one year my mum decided: never again…

    5. I think we have a need on a fundamental level to believe that other people are essentially like us. That they think the same way we do. It lets us understand them and makes us feel safe. That someone might look like us but not think like us can be confusing, even terrifying. No wonder so many people fight to deny the existence of people who aren’t ‘normal’, when the alternative is a paradigm shift in the understanding of human nature.

    1. 1. A natural assumption *for you*. On the contrary, I suppose, my natural assumption would be that people make the journey by train. 🙂 (We all need to work to overcome our unconscious biases.)

      It’s very sad, of course, that the branch line to Ballater, like so many others in Scotland, succumbed to Beeching’s axe.

      5. I think I agree that it’s good practice to start from the baseline of assuming that other people are essentially like us: what else can we do? (And I think, to a large extent anyway, that if we dig beneath the surface, people tend to have more in common than sets them apart.)

      However, I’m not sure that addressing people differently according to the binary gender you perceive them to have is treating people as being ‘essentially like us’ (at least half the time, you’re making the point that the addressee is different from you).

      And though we may be evolutionarily wired to mentally assign people to one of two categories, it doesn’t mean we need to say it out loud or indeed act on it in any way.

  2. Caroline Mathieson Avatar
    Caroline Mathieson

    Normal! HaHa! Who wants to be that? Boring!

    But seriously, the average person does not exist as it only takes one person in the entire world to lose a limb for the majority of the population, who have both limbs, to be no longer average since the average is now 1.X limbs or something. And what about this fictitious 0.4 of a child that the average family is supposed to have? Poor thing! At least the family dog is in one piece!