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Sidebar 1: Ideal Vs. Real Culture

As an undergraduate, I heard an excellent story that illustrates the differences between the "ideal" in a culture, and the cultural "reality". One of my professors, who did his research somewhere in the Middle East, told us of his discovery about the way in which individuals in any society perceive an ideal for what type of behavior should occur and what type of behavior actually does occur in any social situation.

As he proceeded with his ethnographic work he became frustrated and a little bored. He felt he wasn't making much progress with his work, that somehow the important information was slipping past him. So he decided to take he day off, maybe just go for a walk. He did just that, and he remembered it was a beautiful day. Before long he found himself near "the woods by a river, near a section called 'The Washing Rocks'." This area "The Washing Rocks," was where the village girls went to wash their family's clothes. Now in this particular culture, according to his inquiries, arranged marriages were made between the young males and females. "Young men and women do not speak to one another, not allowed to be in any one place together alone. They only meet and speak when their marriage has been arranged." That was the cultural ideal.

But my professor had just discovered that he had accidentally that he had run smack into the cultural reality, for here at "The Washing Rocks" were some of the young girls of the village, and in "The Woods" nearby some of the young men of the village. It is here that the young women and men of the village could meet and "hang out." It was here that budding relationships might blossom.

And how can these relationships, forged in "secret," move out into the public sphere? Simply enough. The young girl will speak with her brother saying that friend told her that young "so and so" is a fine young man. The mother, taking her the girl's cue, will approach her husband. "Husband, don't you think it is time to give thought to our daughter's marriage? You know, my friends say that so and so is a fine young man." The husband, who makes such decisions, might reply, "Yes, I have given this much thought as well. And young so and so is a fine young man. I was going to speak to his father soon." The husband, possibly believing he has had a wonderful revelation, proceeds with his idea with some luck, the arrangement for marriage can be made, and the couple can resume their relationship in public.

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