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Things People Instinctively Copy

A couple of months back, a colleague and I were on a jeepney on our way home from work. It was early evening; we had gone for a quick meal at one of the fast food joints inside Rob; then took our ride in front of the mall.

Just a few hundred yards along the way – just past the school where we both work, as a matter of fact – the jeepney was flagged by a gentleman who got on quickly and proceeded to the front of the jeepney just behind the driver. Coincidentally, the air became noxious, as though somebody had defecated right inside the jeepney.

My colleague and I were discussing mundane things and were not paying the new passenger any attention. Suddenly, my colleague bent over and swung first one foot and then the other sideward so he could inspect the soles of his shoes. He was afraid he had stepped on one of those unfortunate booby traps some uneducated street dog had left behind for an unsuspecting victim.

I did not bother. We had just come from inside the mall; and I figured if either of us had stepped on a booby trap before we entered, I would have smelled it in the air-conditioned confines of the mall.

To my utter amusement, the new passenger first looked at us with a hint of embarrassment on his face and then proceeded to do exactly as my colleague was doing just moments earlier. He bent over to inspect his soles.

Truth be told, I initially thought it was him. To be fair, though, as the jeepney sped along the road, the foul smell eventually disappeared. It must have been something on the road where he got on.

Indeed, there are things that many people seem to just instinctively copy from other people given the right sort of condition. I have lost count of the number of times when I noticed that the people sitting in front of me – say, across a desk – would immediately and seemingly unconsciously copy me if I discreetly swab a finger along the corner of my eye to remove real or imaginary morning glory – a.k.a. mutâ – that might have accumulated.

They do that, too, if I gently clip the rims of my nostrils with my pointer finger and thumb – just a quick check that some dried mucus had not gotten stuck at the tip of the hairs inside my nostrils. I believe you will all agree with me that that sometimes tends to happen.

Curiously, people will not copy you if you poked a finger inside a nostril like you intend to excavate for gold.

I do have a few pairs of pants that have zippers that slide down a few rungs even if I make sure I pull them all the way up when I put the pants on. When the zipper comes loose while I am talking to another gentleman and try to hitch it back all the way to the top, I get amused when – and this happens frequently – the other gentleman almost absentmindedly also direct his fingers to his pants’ zipper to see that it has not gone loose as well.

I also notice that if – say – I were walking nonchalantly along the corridor of a mall, if I turned my back to look this way and that, it is not uncommon for the people right behind me – and sometimes those behind them – to look back this way and that as well. I suppose the obvious assumption here is that they begin to think there is something that has caught my interest behind me and they unconsciously need to know if it is them or somebody – or something – else.

Look up for a prolonged period of time and you will find that passers-by will do exactly the same for no other reason than they somehow need to find out what it is you are looking up at. Yes, even if you are just stretching the muscles of your neck.

In the old days, when I was playing in a light-hearted mood on the football field, apart from my usual bag of tricks, if I had the ball at my feet and one of the boys defending in front of me, as an offbeat feint I would pretend to look up curiously at an imaginary object in the sky. If the boy looked up as well in curiosity, I would push the ball past him and sprint away laughing.

I cannot dupe the boys that way anymore. I was found out years ago and now everyone knows it is a cheap trick!

If you are with a group of people in a tight space – say, an elevator – discreetly bend your head down and arch your nose towards first one armpit and then the other. You will find that one or two other people will do exactly the same – and just as discreetly.

I suppose there is a Psychology to all of these behaviours but – hey – this blog is all about the mundane. We will all just leave it to the experts. Don’t leave all the thinking to me! What other things have you observed that people instinctively copy?

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