Customs and rituals

Customs and Rituals could be the title of a dusty rule book for members of a secret club. There’s an air of mystery that just plain fits.

Customs and rituals are things that have meaning and make perfect sense to the people involved, but not necessarily to anyone else. And everyone has them. “Totally normal” things you do out of habit and superstition will, to an outsider, look just a little odd. Or out and out crazy.

Truth is, we’re all a little crazy when it comes to this stuff. To reassure you, I’ve carried out a survey of our office to make this little list of some of the curious customs and rituals we have in the team.

Matt’s Zen sandwich

Matt’s a creature of lunchtime habit: “I eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich every day for lunch.”

I’ve been meaning to ask him about it for a while now. As a Brit who’s almost religiously dedicated to tea, I’d assumed it was his way of enjoying a little piece of his American homeland everyday.

But Matt explained it’s less about keeping homesickness at bay and more about keeping something constant: “I have a lot of change in my life. In the last five years I’ve had a child, moved every year or so – usually to a new country. I opened a business, and I spend my working day bidding on internet marketing. Having something that I know is going to be the same every day is somewhat Zen to me.”

Shruti’s mantra against negativity

Shruti’s inherited this particular ritual from her mother as a way to counter negative thoughts in stressful times. She explains, “When you’re worried about something, all sorts of negative thoughts can pop into your head.”  

When these thoughts crop up in India, the solution involves a simple ritual: “After miming the action of spitting three times in a row, you then chant the Gāyatrī mantra.” The mantra asks for the thought to be taken out of the universe so that it doesn’t come up ever again.

Maria vs. pointy fries 

For our resident Hawaiian, Maria, it’s a fry thing: “Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve had a ritual approach to eating fries. If a fry has a pointy end, I’ll eat the whole fry except that bit. And if both ends are pointy, then I have to avoid the whole fry altogether.”

As is so often the case when it comes to this sort of thing, it wasn’t until I asked her about it that Maria thought about how long she’s been practicing her fry ritual, or that other people might not do the same when tackling a plateful of the hamburger’s best friends. “It’s been going on for so long now that I don’t even think about it as being strange or unique to me.”

Laurence loves books (a lot)

Whenever Laurence finishes the final line on the last page of a book, she isn’t quite done. She has to carry out a little personal custom before she can start reading her next novel. She says, “When I finish reading a book, I always read the first sentence once again as well as the summary on the back to see if it fits well.”  

With her ritual of assessing books from start to finish, you might think Laurence would be the go-to person in the office to borrow a book from. Not so. Having finished a book she finds it hard to part with. “I keep them all. I really have a hard time not keeping the books I read.”

Janel’s salt sprinkling custom

Now, I’m no fan of stereotypes of course, but in conducting my office survey I couldn’t help noticing that all of the American members of the team had customs and rituals related to food…

In-house Arizonan Janel at least bucked the trend a little by having a customary approach to a condiment. Asked about her ritual, she explained, “We have a bowl of salt at home for seasoning your plate at mealtimes. I always take some salt to sprinkle on my food, and then every single time I return some of the salt I’ve taken to the salt bowl. I do this without fail. I even catch myself wondering why I do, as I’m doing it. And yet, I still do it every time.”

So there have it, a salty sprinkle of our customs and rituals. Why not share yours in the comments below? Whether you have to tie your shoes left foot first, or you have to salute a magpie and recite a rhyme to ward off bad luck, we’d love to hear all about it.

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