Social conventions are a funny things aren’t they?
The Oxford English dictionary defines a ‘clique’ as “a small close-knit group of people who do not readily allow others to join them” Life is populated with these cliques, and you usually tend to evolve through them gradually, as life passes by.
Entering one of the oldest, most archaic social circles in the world was probably one of the most daunting things I ever had to do in my life. Few societies are more archaic, custom-based and relying on limitless respect for your elders as a Bar Association. Upon my first introduction to this society a few years ago when I joined the Antwerp Bar, I quickly found myself hopelessly lost in the indecipherable ocean of age-old customs, social faux-pas, unwritten rules, and mute understandings. Do I bow? Courtsy? Jump? Bark?!
I came to the sudden realisation this week that I had finally truly entered this new clique and that I had now been accepted as being an integral part of it, whilst strolling down the courthouse of Antwerp in my robes. I crossed paths with another, older lawyer who was actively engaged in a discussion that warranted the use of all kinds of gesticulations. As I approached him unhurriedly he slowed his verbal pace, removed his glasses, squinted his eyes, and gave me what can only be referred to as ‘the nod’.
That marked the first instance that I had ever been given ‘the nod’ by one of my elder peers. That nod, this little, almost imperceptible lowering of the head indicating both respect and acceptance, was the metaphorical candle-wax seal on my letter of approval confirming my adherence to the group. I didn’t know him, he most assuredly did not know me, but that is irrelevant to the nod. The nod becomes everyone, as long as you’re a part of the clique. The nod doesn’t discriminate based on gender, skincolor, intelligence, or anything else. It’s the closest thing to a socially accepted secret handshake.
I was so taken by surprise initially, that my clumsy response must’ve looked something like this :
I remember noticing that same type of behaviour when I took the bus on a daily basis to go to lawschool. There was this funny hand-gesture which bus-drivers who crossed paths used to give one another, to affirm to the other one that they were indeed ‘one of theirs’. Because who else would be driving that bus right? Didn’t matter if traffic was dense, or if it was raining or shining, the half-raised arm signal would always appear. It dawned on me that every profession, every group has these little cognitive biases, these customs who rely on membership to a select group.
The downside of being part of an ancient and archaic society is that the clubhouses where you and your peers usually gather are equally antiquated and archaic. You can get lost in the ocean of taciturn rules and regulations, but you can just as easily get lost in the many rooms and hallways of the clubhouses where your peers gather. The first time that happened, I had merely been a lawyer for a couple of weeks and I had to review case-files in some funereal room in the Courthouse in Brussels. If you don’t know what the courthouse in Brussels looks like, just imagine the most bombastic, ostentatious, overwrought combined pile of bricks and mortar that Belgium has to offer. It would inspire the fear of God into God himself, if he had to be at the courthouse for say, a parking violation. It took me just under a minute of inadvertence to end up in a secluded alleyway leading to the frigging heating basement of the whole palace, a room deprived of any form of human life. I asked every passerby if he or she could point me in the right direction of this wretched room I was desperately searching for, and every person said something different. Take these stairs, second to the left, 18th on the right, 1080th door above you. It was so absurdly Kafkaian that it was comical. The whole experience is very reminiscent of Asterix’s 12 Labors. It was the exact. same. goddamn. thing.
But in the end I did manage to find my way, both in the ocean of unspoken customs as well as in the various clubhouses where we (I can say this now that I’ve officially been given *the nod*) gather from time to time to flash our robes….
So I guess you could say my CLIQUE IS ON FLEEK.