Archive for May, 2010

(idea submitted by and dedicated to Justin K.)

It is customary in the Western World to maintain an appropriate “buffer” between yourself and another person for reasons of politeness, respect, or “personal space”.  Rarely will two people touch in public beyond the casual hand-shake or cursory hug.  While this is the norm in most societies, Jewish Young Adults are substantially more touchy-feely than their Non-Jewish counterparts, sometimes shockingly so to casual observers.

JYAs get touchy-feely at the Wall

There are many theories to explain this peculiar behavior.  One theory is that the years spent in close quarters at yeshiva/Jewish summer camp/basic training has eroded the notion of “personal space” for JYAs, making them much more comfortable and free.  Another theory postulates that JYAs are touchy-feely as a way to show emphasis or gravity when they speak.  Arguably the strongest theory suggests that JYAs use touchy-feely behavior as an attention grabbing mechanism, diverting conversations back to themselves when they have strayed.

It is important to note that there are varying degrees of touchy-feeliness amongst JYA communities.  American JYAs might be a little thrown by the degree of touchy-feeliness found in their Israeli counterparts. Similarly secular JYAs might feel awkward concerning the amount of touchy-feeliness within the sexes in more religious circles, whereas orthodox JYAs would feel awkward concerning the touchy-feeliness between the sexes in secular communities.

The First Lady gets touchy-feely with the Queen

Non-Jews should be aware that there is a high probability that they will be casually touched when they are in the company of JYAs, and should prepare accordingly.  Fortunately, JYAs also have a penchant for carrying Antibacterial Wipes, in case there is a hygienic emergency from all the hugging.

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Sociolinguistics is the study of how societal and cultural norms influence the way language is used.  Sociolinguists look at how ethnicity, race, religion, gender, or even age affect the way people speak, what words they choose, and their intonation.  As part of this field, recent studies concerning the  verbal communication of Jewish Young Adults has revealed an interesting idiosyncrasy:  the tendency to Answer Questions with more Questions.

For example, note the interaction between two female JYAs:

“Shira”:  Do you think Ari is going to be at the bar tonight?

“Carrie”:  Does he want me to cut his balls off?

Clearly “Ari” would not like to be publicly castrated, and therefore, even though “Carrie” does not give a straightforward answer, it is implied that “Ari” will probably not be at the bar.

Sometimes this vernacular peculiarity can become more intricate, which frequently confuses casual Non-Jewish observers.  Note how the same situation becomes more complex in this example:

“Shira”:  Do you think Ari is going to be at the bar tonight?

“Carrie”: Does he want me to cut his balls off?

“Shira”:  Depends, is he bringing that slut Tricia?

“Carrie”: Didn’t she come last time?

This more nuanced example illustrates the linguistic complexity of JYA.  While the implied response to the first two questions remains the same as in the first example, the additional two questions reverse the logic.  Clearly “Ari” still does not want to be humiliated at the bar, but the additional two lines describe a previous situation where “Ari” was inconsiderate enough to bring “Tricia” to a social event, which undoubtedly elicited a negative response.  Therefore, in this example, we can assume that “Ari” is stupid enough to bring “Tricia” again, therefore risking public disgrace.

The phenomenon of answering questions with more questions has become a subtle yet concrete marker for detecting JYAs.  Unfortunately, it sometimes taxing to discern what the JYA really thinks, which frequently creates discomfort and misunderstandings.  Therefore, it is recommended not to answer the JYA with another question unless you are experienced in JYA parlance.

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