DARE TO ASK: Read this, or you won't know squat
By PHILLIP MILANO, The Times-Union
I often see pictures of Middle Eastern men, usually lower class, squatting on
the ground. I haven't seen other men do this, and it seems like there are other
positions that would be more comfortable, even if they did not have access to a
chair. Any ideas on why this is?
Anne, 22, Cedar Falls, Iowa
Squatting is comfortable, and other than standing or sitting, I don't know of
any other position that would work. Most parts of the Middle East where pictures
like that are taken are hot and dry. If you sit on hot and dry dirt or sand,
it's uncomfortable. It burns your bum, and the seat of your pants gets dirty.
It's usually not very practical to carry a chair around, so sitting is out.
Standing works for a while, until you want a break, thus the squatting. As for
the lower class doing this, unless you're wealthy enough to have someone running
around after you with a chair on his back, that's the standard for most economic
A. Schurman, 27, female, Ammon, Idaho
I don't think it's just in the Middle East that people squat. In the United
States it would probably be seen as vulgar or odd -- unless you escape society
and enter the forests. Most forest people do squat. It stretches your back out
nicely and keeps your bottom clean if it's just rained and the log seats around
the campfire are wet, as is the ground. And it makes for good, um, No. 2's?
Really, it does! Our toilets are one of the worst things for our colons. As
someone who lived many years in America's wilderness, I'd say it's pretty common
Ah, the forest people. We'd forgotten about them, dismissed them, laughed off
their squatting capabilities and pleasures.
We did not, however, forget about occupational therapist people, one of whom
knows more than diddly about squatting Middle Eastern and Asian people.
Over the course of a decade and many trips to Asia and India, Susan
Mulholland, professor of occupational therapy at the University of Alberta,
reviewed residents' range of motion, in part for a company that makes artificial
hips and knees and wanted to know how flexible folks over there were.
It turns out, quite.
They're good at things like squatting, and they like it.
"It is more common among lower-income people," Mulholland said. "They tend to
not have furniture, the women are cooking over a fire, closer to the ground ...
you don't have toilets -- that's a high-end commodity. You bathe by the river.
You crouch down to the water source."
In the West and in colder climates, people are more concerned about dirt on
the ground, and so "we've raised ourselves above it," she said. Plus, North
Americans' roots are mainly European, where the chair was developed. It elevated
a person -- say, a king -- above others. Hence our cultural aversion to the
"But over there, to have an 80-year-old woman squatting is normal. In our
culture, God forbid my grandmother would get near the floor. [In Asia] you are
raised near the ground, and continue to have that flexibility."
Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee),
moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's
Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers, or mail to
Phillip Milano, c/o The Florida Times-Union, P.O. Box 1949, Jacksonville, FL
32231. Include contact information.