Yesterday some point was raised about how an early twentieth century person would react to the modern day.
Well, give them some years to adapt. I know. You see, I am a time traveler.
I think I have mentioned in the past that I was reading a book on the Middle Ages (the Time Traveler’s Guide to the Middle Ages, I think) and kept coming across things that I went “so?” on. Because they were the same conditions I grew up in.
It’s hard to explain, truly, because we had buses and cars (not many cars. For instance there were two vans and one car in the village. When I had a breathing crisis in the middle of the night (every few months or so till I was six) we had to knock on the door of the grocer across the street who — poor man, may he rest in peace, he died with Alzheimer’s — is as responsible as my parents for my still being here. He would throw on clothes at any hour of the day or night and drive us to emergency in the city, then wait with my parents until he found out if I’d be sent back home or kept on oxygen.
We also had telephones. In the grocery store. If something dire happened to one of the relatives overseas, they’d call, and so when we got the knock on the door and “call for” we knew it was bad news. Only worse news was a telegram. Mind you, my brother used that phone to call in song requests to request programs on the radio. (Programa de pedidos.)
Oh, yeah, we had radios. Everyone had a radio, even my grandparents, and had had them from the beginning of the century. There were dead tube radios in the attics, which is how I built myself my first radio. (“Dad, I want a radio.” “Good, you can have one.” And then he went back to reading Three Men In A Boat. I’m not actually joking.)
And then there were televisions. Well, every coffee shop had a TV, which is how they attracted the after-dinner crowd who, for cultural reasons, were mostly male. Then again the nearest coffee shop was a mile away. Through ill-lit streets. So, yeah.
My godmother and the housekeeper for the earl’s “farm house” catercorner from us had tvs. We often went to watch TV with the housekeeper, when the earl and his family wasn’t in (which was 99% of the time.) And all I have to say about my godmother’s door pane is that she really shouldn’t have gone on vacation at the time of the moon landing. And besides we cleaned up and left her money for the replacement. (Sheesh.)
We got a TV when I was eight, but programs were mostly on at night — and an hour at noon which was cartoons for the kids who had morning classes — and most of the stuff was more than 20 years old US programing, except for “talking comedy” and game shows, most immensely popular.
BUT the main form of entertainment was the radio. There were soap operas on the radio and when I had morning classes (imagine a country that outstripped its school space so far that the kids have school either five hours in the morning or in the afternoon. Mind you, I rather liked that, because it gave me half the day for myself. Particularly morning classes) and came home by bus, I could walk down the main village street and listen to the Soap, as I passed each door, a sure sign that the lady of the house was cooking and listening to the travails of some wronged damsel.
Mom who worked Ringo-like i.e. nothing for months and then a month of very late nights, often listened to radio while working till all hours. Which was interesting because the late programs were incredibly stuffy, like stuff on History or Greek Myth. At one time they did “readings from Russian Literature” which is why my brother ended up nicknamed Miguel Strogonoff.
But these were the frills. The reality went on alongside. Most people in the village had beaten earth floors in the kitchen. (Yeah, we were higher class. Grandma had red concrete poured.) The bedrooms, and other rooms tended to be wood.
A “nice house” wasn’t a pretty one, though my grandmother might refer to one of the more modern-built, all convenience houses as a “right palace.” A nice house was one with a chicken coup, maybe a pigsty, almost for sure a barn for a bull.
(For reasons totally unknown to me, we stopped keeping larger animals — bulls, goats — long before I was born. If I were to guess, I’d blame it on grandmother’s reluctance to see things she’d raised killed. It’s one thing to “retire” a laying chicken and keep her till her natural death. A bull, now…)
A nice house ALSO had a vineyard. Because most of the land plots were tighter than your suburban backyard (unless it’s the area we’re renting, which would be about half of grandma’s backyard) the vineyard would a) cover the patio. Well, surely you don’t want your kids to sit in the full summer sun, right? It would also cover the chicken coup, the storage outbuildings, granddad’s workshop and the wash tank. Come grape harvest we got trained in solving logistic problems that would make your mind spin. Like “How do we harvest over the workshop when there’s barely enough space to lie down on your back?”
You weren’t allowed to harvest from a ladder till you were five. This meant you were restricted to harvesting the one vine near the woodshed in the back where you could reach from the wood pile. I LONGED to harvest from a ladder, like the grownups. The next step up was “harvest like a teen.” My brother and cousin were allowed to harvest the difficult places in hero mode. (“Mind the roof of the chicken coup. The metal is rusted and we don’t want you cut.”) For some reason it lost some of its glamour once my brother and cousin were married and I was the ONLY one doing the “difficult spots”. After I married those spots went unharvested.
People only bought food if what they produced wasn’t enough. We always had eggs and vegetables, though in winter that was mostly cabbage.
Bread was the exception, because we ate A LOT of bread — bread and soup was a sufficiency for a meal — rye-corn bread (broa, clearly a Germanic word) from the farmer across the street and pao (pronounce pown, from Panen the Latin survival) from the bakers. The bakers delivered. You left a little bag tied to to your kitchen door, and in the morning it was filled with fresh bread. (This is the thing I missed MOST as newly wed here.) This originated a competition in “nice bread bags” among village ladies, so these were very fancy work, embroidered or open work, or crochet. I brought half a dozen in my trousseau, and it only now occurred to me to wonder where they ended up.)
The rhythm of the day was medieval. We even had the bell tolling, and you were supposed to stop at any time you heard it and say the prescribed prayers. (“So and so’s book of hours” made perfect sense to me.) Most people worked insane amounts. Boredom was assuaged with singing, or handywork or rarely reading. (I was WEIRD, okay. Actually my whole family was.)
On Sundays you sat by your front door and watched your neighbors and gossiped. (I could never get a determination on whether it was sinful to read on Sunday, so I just hid out and read anyway.)
As for modern conveniences… Well… I didn’t know electrical typewriters existed. Dad bought me a manual one for my 14th birthday, and he bought a very expensive one, because it would have to last me my whole life and, if he knew me (he did), I’d make my living by words.
I not only didn’t see a dishwasher till I was 12 (I think) but, having heard of them, I imagined them kind of like the robot diners in Simak. Arms come out the wall and wash dishes.
I was by no means the person from the most backward environment to become an exchange student. I certainly didn’t come from as backward a place as my host-parents expected (look, host-mom was descended from Portuguese. What she didn’t realize was that it had changed since her grandma’s stories.) They showed me how to flush the toilet…
However there were myriad culture shocks. The all-day tv, for instance. (I watched for two days solid, then decided it wasn’t my thing.) But mostly, at that time, the culture shock was the prosperity. My host mother bought a small tv for the kitchen on a whim, at a time when, in Portugal, you’d still have to save for years to buy ANY TV. Or the things considered necessary. We had patio furniture, though I don’t think anyone but me EVER went outside. (Not to blame them. Ohio has two seasons: Deep Freeze and Sauna.)
The refrigerator. When I came over we had a fridge. We got a fridge when I was ten. But a) it was the size of a dorm fridge. b) mom was still in the habit of shopping every day. So the morning was devoted to shopping for the food for lunch/dinner. The main thing we used our fridge for was ice-cubes, one per drink, because more than that might kill you.
My host family shopped once a week, and kept stuff in the deep freezer, so you didn’t need to run out to get food every day.
But now, note, I’m writing this on a computer. I own a dishwasher, a deep freezer, an mp3 player (my brother’s transistor radio was a wonder and an object of envy for everyone in the village.)
Most of the transportation in the village was by ox cart. It’s how my parents moved house. Moo-haul.
How did I adapt? Well, like Lizzy Bennet, so gradually I was in the middle of it before I knew what was happening.
Adapting to a higher standard of living with more conveniences is easy. Mind you, our early century guy might not “get” or might feel vaguely disquieted by innovations. I was after all an SF reader, which helped.
However, Man is infinitely adaptable. I know since the great summer of non recovery in 2008 we’ve made a lot of adjustments to our lifestyle, mostly in terms of “we can’t afford this” and while it hurt at first, now they’re hardly even noticed.
Which is how people in downward-spiral countries convince themselves things are still ever-better. (Usually with a little help from the traitorous media. [Did they try Summer of Recovery this summer? Did I so totally tune them out I didn’t notice?]) And why Greece’s crash was “unexpected” to Greeks.
There are things left behind, in that past I came from, things I can easily live without. First there’s the lack of access to medical care. Most Europeans who are happy with socialized medicine are happy because at the time it was introduced it was a huge step up over what was available at the beginning of the century — when it was introduced there. If all you have in the way of treatment is a local nurse who administers shots, the local pharmacist which (say, apropos nothing) will change dressings on the back you completely skinned while seaside-cliff climbing (or rather falling from. I managed to turn around and take the slope on my back. I still don’t remember/have no idea how we kept mom from seeing the dressings) and the occasional overworked, over harried doctor who will do house calls at a prohibitive price if you’re seriously ill, yeah. Socialized medicine is an improvement over that. I don’t think the progressives (I almost typed primitives — curse you, auto-correct mind) who push for socialized medicine understand that it’s not an improvement even over the f*cked up bureaucracy of the US. They tend to live in a state of envy of the fact that France has a pony and imagine that pony neither craps nor eats.
I don’t miss the tribalism. Though frankly the tribalism in my field gets to me at times (to paraphrase Anne in Black Tide Rising “Why is my field so filled with screwed up people?”) it’s not as bad or the same kind as in the village. As in, when a boy from the next village over came courting my aunt, my dad had to stop the local boys from beating him up. And when some guys on motorcycles (with, I swear no encouragement. At 14 I still had no idea what Mr. Hormone was for. I mean, I was developed, and I had an INTELLECTUAL knowledge of reproduction, but I failed to see why it would apply to me.) followed me home, it came in useful as some of the guys in the village beat them up for “Coming trying to poach one of our more select girls.” BUT that type of tribalism is nutty and holds back people from working together or even from moving to the next village, no matter how good the opportunity. Which in turn stunts lifestyle and wealth. (And I wonder what they feel about my husband whisking me right across the ocean. I know my brother still resented the girl his generation who married an American. She was reportedly the most beautiful woman of her generation and her parents had, in a fit of foretelling, I guess, named her America.)
I don’t miss having to scrounge for books or re-read books a million times because they were so expensive. And I don’t miss not having the internet. First time I read of “something like the internet” was in Friday, and I wanted it with lust-like intensity from the moment I heard of it. If I didn’t have a work ethic I got from grandma, I’d spend my day, every day, cruising for weird info on the net. It’s what other people do — I think — when they game or watch TV.
Anyway, yeah, I don’t like TV and I get most reference jokes because friends make them so much, rather than because I remember the show/program. And sometimes you come across a meme/show I never heard of, and are shocked.
But over all, I’m here to tell you time-travelers adapt remarkably well.
Even if my kids can’t imagine a world without computer games, they’d probably adapt too.
Elastic. That’s what humanity is. And why we’ve become the dominant species. And that’s why — to me — the doom and gloom, everything rusting and no hope for anyone books don’t pass the sniff test.
That’s not how humans live. Humans adapt. In the darkest pit we find hope and joy. And in the brightest paradise, of course, we go lusting for flaws. Which explains the rusty-decaying-future literature. Not to be confused with apocalyptic but hopeful literature, like Black Tide Rising. Yeah, I mention it a lot, because I’m listening to it, while hammering and painting.
Which reminds me: I need to stop typing and go clean and wax floors and stage rooms, while older son finishes the one room that needs painting.
World without end.