fixing a shoe“Boxers or briefs?” is a question people ask when trying to get insights into a man but really it’s for getting personal, digging below the surface. It’s just throw away information once the question is answered, but the asking and responding feels a bit intimate.

Recently I was shopping in a city I’d never been to and saw underwear I like on sale so I picked out a few pairs and headed to the register. Who’d be working the register I wondered?

Does it matter who’s behind the register? Why feel uncomfortable buying underwear from a person you’ll likely never see again? It shouldn’t matter at all. But if it does feel odd it’s probably because that person knows what you wear under your clothes while you don’t have a clue about what they’re wearing, there’s an information imbalance.

That this would happen I’d guess comes from all the generations humans spent living in small groups in which you’d constantly see your tribe-mates. Compare that to the relatively few generations we’ve spent encountering people all the time who we’ll never see again.

On top of that is our tendency to want to be polite. And in effect, showing a stranger your underwear at some level feels impolite.

But we forge ahead. I don’t remember the sales person behind the register and I’m sure she forgot what I looked like before the store door closed.