On Saturday night, a group of friends and I were chatting about random things, as often happens when libations are involved. One friend brought up the show Sex and the City, mentioning how her fiancé had asked if she and her friends really talked like that about men and sex. She admitted that, no, we really don’t. Another girl, who grew up on the East Coast, said that she could totally relate to that sort of frank sexual conversation, but admitted that the friend who generally did so was “kind of a whore.”
While it is generally acknowledged that we all have some degree of sex life, it’s just not something that most Americans, still, openly discuss. We are quite prudish by European standards, which shocked me at the age of 11, seeing bare breasts openly on display on the covers of magazines in a local Finnish grocery store.
But what precipitated this blog was an incident which brought another of America’s verboten topics into view: money.
I recently had my annual review, which put me into another salary bracket at the mid-size insurance company I currently work for. Because my raise hadn’t been hammered out into dollars yet, and because I wasn’t sure what my current salary RANGE was, I e-mailed HR for the details of my current bracket and the one I would be moving into. Before doing so, though, I tried to see if anyone else had the information – I was embarrassed to be asking this question, although it’s perfectly reasonable for a person to know what her own salary range should be!
I was told by HR that when employees request this sort of information, they generally have a short meeting to discuss it, rather than just hand it over.
Seriously? What’s with the Fort Knox-level security here? I would have just cancelled the forthcoming meeting request in shame, had it not been for a natural sense of indignance springing forth. Why can’t I simply know this information which, by the way, was available on the Intranet for all to see just a few months ago?
It seems to me that here, in the wholesome, values-driven Midwest, talking about sex and money are just perceived as crass. Though both facts of life, each necessary to some degree, to either perpetuate the species or simply to sustain life itself, neither are supposed to be things that we value more than other ideals or social mores. And are therefore off-limits.
We’re all victims to this kind of mentality. Actually, when a guy I was dating spent ten minutes cataloguing his salary raises over the last year, my thoughts were along the lines of “ugh – that is so unattractive.” While not the keening blow to that relationship, we weren’t dating much longer. It was just a sign that he either lacked social skills or valued money too much . . . or that he had no sense of good story-telling. Because, seriously – ten minutes?
But I digress.
Much as Americans think that we’re well beyond the socially-constrictive Victorian era, and light-years beyond the Puritans that first settled this country, are we really just blind to our own cages?
And is limiting conversation about the baser things in life necessarily a bad thing? This I don’t know. But I can say that mixing social conservatism with bureaucracy certainly leads to some head-scratching situations.