Thursday, January 13, 2005

from ann arbor: which weigh?

Here's something: twice during my short time here in Ann Arbor people have asked me for directions. When I was in my mid-twenties or so, I became convinced that strangers asked me for directions way more often than other people. The first line of evidence was just that I seemed to get asked for directions a lot; way more than, say, I myself asked for directions (and I'm not at all one of those guys who's adverse to asking for directions). However, it would also be the case I would see strangers pass by other people in order to approach me for directions. Indeed, when I was walking with other people, it seemed like strangers would still fix upon me as the main person of my group they were asking.

I was never sure how to explain this. A charitable theory would be that something about me made me appear both (a) like I know where things are and (b) non-threatening. I thought that, sexism of the world being what it is, my being male might have had something to do with part (a) of the equation, but I didn't know what to think vis-a-vis part (b). In any case, later in my twenties and into my early thirties I felt like the phenomenon had basically stopped and that I was no longer being asked-for-directions any more than is normal. However, lately I've wondered if I've gone back to being disproportionately approached. If so, the main way that I'm similar to the Jeremy of 8-9 years ago and dissimilar to the Jeremy of 3-5 years ago is that, ever since the Astonishing Weight Gain of 2003, I'm back to being overweight. Accordingly, my current theory is that being portly makes a person seem less threatening and so seem more congenial to be asked directions. Presumably somebody in experimental social psychology will eventually hit upon this idea as well and they will do an experiment showing my hypothesis to be, as ever, correct.

Anyway: I might not be able to parlay my affable corpulence into a multizillion dollar empire like certain daytime talkshow hosts I could name, but at least I get to help the world get where it's going.

8 comments:

dorotha said...

my ex-boyfriend is stopped all of the time for directions as well. he is very approachable looking. no one i have ever known has been asked as often as he is for directions. i don't know how much he would like your theory on this, but i will direct his attention to your post. actually, i guess that your explanation would likely sound insulting, so i probably shouldn't. i can hear him saying "ooh, HARRIED! so mean!"

i don't get stopped very often for directions, but once someone driving past the social science building asked me for directions to the "arbitrarium." i didn't know how to get there. might it not unexpectedly change locations?

anyway, i suspect that it is a combination of being male and nonthreatening that results in people asking for directions. i mean, i am chubby and i don't look threatening (strangers wouldn't necessarily know that i am armed to the teeth), but i don't think people target me when they ask for directions. oh, and i'm a girl. fat girls don't know what's what, i guess. at least not in the same way as our male counterparts.

Anonymous said...

My theory is that it has to do with eye-contact. I know that, especially in a time of need (like directions, or a free rum and coke) I am more likely to speak to a stranger who makes eye-contact with me when I glance his/her way.

As an observer of your behavior, Jeremy, I can say that you are one of the most eye-contacty people in the Social Science building (maybe in ALL of sociology!). You are always ready with a smile, a little eye-contact, and a friendly hello when I pass you in the hall. I imagine you behave this way towards others as well.

And speaking of men who don't like asking for directions, my father is definitely one of them. I've actually had to fake needing to go to the bathroom just so that my dad would pull over at a gas station and I could ask for directions. Sheesh.

Anonymous said...

You're all nuts. I would sooner spit in the face of Mike Tyson on steroids than look at most people, and my demeanor reflects my anti-idiotarian attitude, but I still get asked for directions all the time.

Anonymous said...

"Many tests in this world there are." -yoda

...

To answer why it happens, you must think of what it means to you.

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"It's not you, it's them."

Ann Althouse said...

Maybe the inference from portliness is that, being averse to exercise, you would know the shortest distance from one place to another.

dorotha said...

wow! ann might might be meaner than me! that's rare. anyway, i think ann might be off. in my experience, fat people are also assumed to be stupider. direction-seekers would be left struggling between assuming that fat people know the shortest path between to points (a line!) and assuming that they would be wrong in the directions they give (straight ahead!).

Anonymous said...

But of course, social psychologists has weighed in on the relationship between being over weight and being perceived as competent. In general, over weight people are seen as less competent, but nicer than their thinner counterparts. So, if you think the place you are trying to find is not that hard to find or its location is likely known by most, then it might make sense to ask the portly person. But if you are looking for a buried treasure.. .

Shelley

A+ said...

Why are we continuing this conversation as if Jeremy is somehow 'portly?'