June 6, 2013

"Pretzels and free will."

That's the title of a blog post of mine from June 11, 2004. I just feel like reprinting it:
As I was grading bluebooks in the café at Borders today, two little girls sat down at the next table. Each had a glass of water and a package of pretzels.
GIRL A: Tell me a story.

GIRL B (the older child, in an adult tone of voice): When I was a baby, I loved to look at my mobile. And I slept a lot ...
The girls are both daintily dipping their pretzel sticks in their water before taking bites. They seem to be imitating an adult they have seen dipping a cookie in coffee. A woman sits down at their table and says to Girl B, "I told you about good pretzel manners." Girl A then proceeds to dip her pretzel in water and the woman takes Girl A's water and pretzels away, which the girl thinks is unfair. The girl had assumed that she had the advantage over Girl B for a moment and was free to dip until she was directly told not to.
WOMAN: You heard me tell [Girl B] and you made the decision to disobey.
Girl B still has her pretzels and water, which she now consumes, observing pretzel manners. After a few minutes, she says, "I love pretzels." Girl A immediately says, "I do too," and the subject of whether the woman has treated Girl A fairly continues--"You're being mean"--with the woman absolutely sticking to her decision to keep the pretzels and water from the girl who, after all, "made the decision to disobey," or, more accurately, decided to act on the theory that the general rule did not bind her and that a warning would precede any loss of privilege. The little girl is perhaps 5 years old, and the woman is clearly committed to teaching personal responsibility. As they get up to leave the girl puts her finger on a crumb on the table and pops it in her mouth. With the woman almost out of hearing range, she declares her small victory: "I ate the pretzel crumb!"

29 comments:

edutcher said...

The Greeks would then explain how that act of hubris was brought low.

Crunchy Frog said...

When a pitcher throws at a batter's head, the umpire warns both teams that continued poor sportsmanship will result in ejections. The team whose batter was thrown at does not get its own free pass to go headhunting.

Is it fair? No. Does it keep on-field violence to a minimum? Mos def.

Kirk Parker said...

The mom seems like a piece of work. "Pretzel Manners"? GMAFB.

Lem said...

I notice Althouse had no commenters yet...

So... out of respect for her non-commenters non existent community, I'm going to refrain from commenting...

D'oh

t-man said...

And for the next month, like a prisoner in some bizarre Pennsylvania prison, the little girl was forced to live solely on pretzels and water.

Chip Ahoy said...

Mother: I expected you to absorb the lesson by osmosis!

Girl A: Well I'm thick then innit.

Childhood is living under arbitrary dictatorship. I hated it.

Ann Althouse said...

"I notice Althouse had no commenters yet... "

Actually, I didn't have comments turned on then. I'd tried comments for a short time earlier in 2004 and thought the experience was terrible and turned them off. So even though I had a good readership at that time, they were not able to comment.

Freeman Hunt said...

I'm sure pretzel manners evolved out of adults being disgusted by water glasses filled with floating pretzel detritus.

Joan said...

As a parent who frequently brought my very young children to Border's cafes when they existed, I think that mother is being a bit harsh. But who knows how many times that child pushed the limits earlier in that day? I'm going to refrain from judging either one. It's impossible to tell based on just that interaction.

John Lynch said...

I simply tell my son "No, don't do that."

People have to justify to themselves everything these days. A child doesn't need the explanation.

Ann Althouse said...

I don't have a problem with the mother. She's teaching table manners and she's showing the she doesn't accept evasion of the rules. It's a good lesson.

The little girl undoubtedly learned something and will not be a brat.

The little girl was also completely cute and was building her independence and courage.

Kirk Parker said...

And I stand by my criticism. The mentality that would have overly-specified rules like this, and dignify the process by actually having a title in that mental universe called "good pretzel manners", is sick.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Freeman:
I love the kiddie avatar!

traditionalguy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
traditionalguy said...

Your teaching gene must get restless as yhe long summer rolls along.

Your class is assembled and ready now. Teach us more about dogs.

R. Chatt said...

The mother was experienced enough with her children to identify defiance versus forgetfulness when she saw it. It really wasn't about pretzels.

It actually reassures me when I see parents taking responsibility to lovingly guide their children to behave well. That's how children learn or fail to learn manners.

FedkaTheConvict said...

Pretzels and water sound like the perfect snack for Madison hair shirts.

fivewheels said...

I kind of want to hear the rest of the story about the mobile.

tim maguire said...

I wonder what my first Althouse post was. I don't remember this one, but back then I was reading more blogs. And so couldn't read every post.

Carl said...

It's an interesting problem. If you, out of sense of fairness, always warn them before the hammer falls, then they simply learn to use the warning as a boundary marker. They don't even think about where the boundaries lie, because they don't have to. They know there's a little warning buzzer that'll go off when they hit it, in plenty of time to avoid serious consequences.

Adults are like this, too. Experiments have shown people drive more carefully and with fewer accidents when cautionary road signs are removed, or at least restricted to those warning of very nonobvious hazards. The presence of thick warning signs teaches the driver to rely upon them. Their absence causes him to start worrying about driving hazards on his own, all the time -- which is more effective, of course.

But on the other hand, if you simply come down on them like a ton of bricks, without warning, then this can generate a great deal of anxiety, as well as actually be grossly unfair if the issue is some miscommunication or misperception of exactly where the boundaries lie.

You're in trouble both ways, if taken to an extreme, so you have to be in the functional middle...somehow. One might imagine the most successful parents have (1) a system of reliable unconscious warning signs -- signs of their own worsening mood, with enough clues to help the child figure out the object of the mood; as well as (2) a genuinely consistent internal set of boundaries, but paradoxically (3) a certain amount of random variation in whether you get a warning shot acrosst the bow before being hulled below the waterline. This would keep the child just a bit on his toes, and actively thinking about whether the boundaries lie, instead of relying on mum's early warning siren -- which is the origin of genuine personal ethics.

What a shame we can't just program this behaviour in ourselves by thinking about it a lot.

Kirk Parker said...

Freeman,

No doubt, but the sort of adult who would get all the way to "disgusted" by mere pretzel detritus in water isn't really very promising parent material, wouldn't you say?

David said...

Your writing has improved. Quicker. Better flow.

Practice helps, it seems.

Freeman Hunt said...

"wouldn't you say?"

No.

Another example of a similar rule:

No adult should allow a child to repeatedly dip a single french fry into ketchup, licking the ketchup off each time. Rule One of table manners is "Don't do anything that looks disgusting."

Freeman Hunt said...

Thanks, Ruth Anne!

rcommal said...

Deja vu.

(That post, I mean.)

DEEBEE said...

That is a nice allegory for what will happen after Barack Bloomberg are done with us. And the end is where the story will meet our reality.

Aridog said...

Carl said...

It's an interesting problem. If you, out of sense of fairness, always warn them before the hammer falls, then they simply learn to use the warning as a boundary marker...

Actually, I think it is a common trait among thinking beings. The biggest mistake new people to training their dog make is the multiple commands syndrome. The dog promptly learns they needn't "come", or "heel", or whatever it is, until the umpteenth same command.

Ideally, for ordinary domestic obedience stuff, your dog will have a easily ennunciated two sylable name. You call out the name clearly, then follow with the command once. Reward positive response. The name-call is the "notice" to obey, the command says what is expected. Say the command ten times, your dog will figure out that he/she can waiting until the tenth time to obey.

Recenttly, the neighborhood kids age 4 to 12 have decided to adopt "Dera" our German Shepherd who has the odd trait, for an adult Shepherd, of not minding being hugged and cuddled by kids. "Ari" was the scary one, "Dera" is the cutie pie...so she gets visited every day by the kids who generally don't have dogs of their own, due to cultural things....but their parents don't mind them playing with our dog(s) if we don't mind.

Anyway...they've done a fine job or re-conditioning "Dera" to not "sit" or "down" until about the 8th request to do so. The only one who gets it and does the best is the 4 year old. Surprise?

No matter, "Dera" is not going to any trials, where only one word commands are allowed (no notice by calling out name) and can "sit" whenever she thinks the kids deserve for her to be obedient. "Dera" thinks kids giggling is a great reward for doing as asked.

Aridog said...

Freeman Hunt said...

Rule One of table manners is "Don't do anything that looks disgusting."

How in the world would one learn to eat oysters on the half sheel then? :)

Kirk Parker said...

"oysters"

Lots of seafood comes to mind (e.g. crab), and don't even get started on those rib places that bring you a bib...