I see a nice man,” she said simply. “You want to know how I can tell? It’s the same gut feeling I use with animals. Somehow you just know when they are going to be okay, or you know they’re potentially vicious and going to bite. I don’t think you are going to bite me, Jake Bronson.” This conversation is from Elizabeth Adler’s novel, Invitation To Provence
I chose this book assuming I would read some lovely details about Provence, but the author focused more on the conflicts between relationships and of course the growing romance between some of them. The story could easily have occurred anywhere in the world rather than specifically in Provence. However, I did find myself wondering about this character’s intuition and how much we can rely upon that intuition especially when we are visiting another country.
I actually had difficulty trusting Fanny Marten’s intuition since this confident statement was coming from a woman who recently just learned that the man she was dating was married! And yet, Malcolm Gladwell in his book Blink, gives interesting evidence that supports the effectiveness of our snap judgments. For example, in one study, the researcher Ambady gave the subjects a two second videotape of three teachers and asked them to evaluate them. Then she compared those snap judgments with evaluations of the same professors made by their students after a full semester of classes, and she found that they were essentially the same! As Gladwell comments, “That’s the power of our adaptive unconscious.”
Malcolm Gladwell cautions his reader when he writes, “Blink is not just a celebration of the power of the glance, however. I’m also interested in those moments when our instincts betray us.” Gladwell may be able to explain Fanny’s initial poor judgment when he writes about another study involving speed dating: “Many people who looked at Warren Harding saw how extraordinarily handsome and distinguished-looking he was and jumped to the immediate – and entirely unwarranted- conclusion that he was a man of courage and intelligence and integrity. They didn’t dig below the surface. The way he looked carried so many powerful connotations that it stopped the normal process of thinking dead in its tracks.”
As a tourist, do we have instincts that will betray us when we interact with people of a different culture? Gladwell explains how another study revealed how the face has a mind of its own. “We can use our voluntary muscular system to try to suppress those involuntary responses. But, often, some little part of that suppressed emotion – such as the sense that I’m really unhappy even if I deny it – leaks out.: Supposedly, if we watch those facial expressions closely, we can accurately make an accurate snap judgment. However, as David Lebovitz writes in Paris Was Ours, “I do my best to act like a Parisian: I smile only when I actually have something to be happy about” Since the French don’t smile as readily as we Canadians do, I could easily make a wrong snap judgment that the unsmiling French person is unhappy or even “suspicious looking”.
Or if I saw a mother “speak with a sharpness that is alarming to the uninitiated” as Janine Di Giovanni describes in the same book, I might think she abuses her children at home and should be reported! However, As Janine Di Giovanni explains, “They think they are doing their children a favour, which is to civilize them.”
Or I might conclude that the French have no morality when they are indifferent to their leader’s moral failings. And yet, as I read Alicia Drake’s essay in Paris Was Ours, their acceptance is merely their “recognition of human frailty.”
Obviously, it is imperative that as a tourist, we really need to be aware of some of the cultural differences to help us make snap judgments.
But as for my character Fanny Marten in the novel Invitation to Providence, Sigmund Freud himself supports Fanny’s intuition regarding her new boyfriend: “When making a decision of minor importance, I have always found it advantageous to consider all the pros and cons. In vital matters, however, such as the choice of a mate or a profession, the decision should come from the unconscious, from somewhere within ourselves. In the important decisions of personal life, we should be governed, I think, by the deep inner needs of our nature” (Blink by Malcolm Gladwell)