Here there be monsters (socratic) wrote,
Here there be monsters

How to spot a New York Jew

In rural America (you could probably call it White rural America if you wanted to) there is a certain code of neighborliness that is certainly not followed by everyone but is at least acknowledged as how people should act. This code is basically descended from Calvinism and the needs of early settlers to stick together, and it pretty much amounts to neighbors helping one another out and that it's better to be in a position to help someone than to be the person needing help.

Thus our hitchhiking escapade yesterday. Our benefactor wasn't doing anything in particular, just coming home from a walk with his wife, and helping us out didn't cost him much, 20 minutes and maybe half a gallon of gasoline. He helped us. In exchange all that's expected is A) Respect and B) Sociability. He told us stories about his youth and time in the Navy. We asked appropriate questions, answered all of his, avoided using any bad language or disrespectful tones.

This is all up to code.

Then, when we were getting ready to get out, one of my friends made a fatal error. He tried to give the man money.

Big mistake.

See to offer money in that sort of situation is to A) Imply that the guy needs money and B) Turn an incidence of The Code into a vulgar commercial exchange. This man likely doesn't think of himself as the sort of person who would take time away from a relaxing Sunday morning to make a few bucks ferrying strangers around. He'd rather be on the porch with his wife. Now if it's about helping a stranger, demonstrating his place in the social order and adherence to the moral norms of his society, that's a different story. That's something worth disrupting the routine for. Offering money, paradoxically, significantly reduces the value of the action for him.

For a Jew, a few bucks is a few bucks. Yeah, the guy did us a mitzvah, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't give him some money to defray gas costs and to pay for cleaning the mud one of us got on his car seat. The two things are completely separate in our culture. Giving him money doesn't reduce the value of the favor, it's just a way of showing gratitude. Calvinists would rather have verbal thanks. I think this is one of the reasons that Jews are frequently viewed as money-obsessed, because we don't separate the material and the 'spiritual' or whatever you want to call it in the same way that certain Christian sects do.

Thinking that just because you receive material compensation for doing a good deed doesn't lessen the value of that deed?

Jew Alert! Jew Alert!
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