Certain Sounds Mean Different Things Depending On Where You Are From


October 11, 2015 11:30pm
It is interesting the different ways we react to things depending on where we are from.

A woman staying at the hotel called me with a concern that confused me. She heard a siren. I did not hear the siren sound, but she did, and it made her very nervous.
“I’m not from this town, or New York, but I just heard a siren.” She said, and became silent. I had the impression her silence meant she was waiting for me to give her some kind of emergency information, or at the least, explain the meaning of the siren that I never heard. I was confused, and unsure what to say to her. To me a siren either means that an emergency vehicle is on its way by, or in the case of the small town where this hotel is located, a siren sounds every time the trucks have to go out on an emergency call. I grew up on the edge of my city, and the firehouse in the small town next to me is only a few blocks away from where I grew up. Hearing their siren every day was common, and I grew up ignoring it, because it didn’t mean anything that required me to react.
“Did you hear an emergency vehicle pass by?” I asked.
“No, it was a siren. It sounded like a tornado siren.” She said. That means she could hear the firehouse siren.
“Okay.” I paused for a moment. She silently continued waiting for me to explain the problem, when there is no problem. “I am unsure what you are concerned about. I’m pretty sure all you heard was the firehouse.” I replied.
“That was a tornado siren.” She insisted.
“I assure you, we do not have those here. What you heard was most likely the firehouse.” I said.
She seemed to become more confused than I was. I felt like she thought I needed to give her detailed information about what to do. I was confused because there was no emergency to be worried about.
“This late?” She asked. I think she was becoming embarrassed, because I was reacting like there shouldn’t be an issue, and she was concerned that there was something that she needed to worry about.
“That siren just means that the fire trucks are exiting the firehouse.” I informed her.
“But, why this late?” She asked. Do emergency alarms have curfews?
“It’s to warn the public that the fire trucks are leaving the station to respond to an emergency.” I told her.
“Where I’m from, that siren would mean there is a tornado in the area.” She said with a new frustrated tone to her voice. Where I am from, it means it sucks to be the person who had to call 911.
“I understand. You heard a siren, and you became concerned that there might be an emergency that you needed to respond to. I assure you, there is nothing for you to worry about. That siren is just the local firehouse.” I said. I was trying to sound reassuring.
“But, it is so late. Why would they sound an alarm that the public doesn’t have to worry about this late?” She asked with more frustration. When people ask me questions like that, I get the impression that they think I can do something about it. Am I expected to contact the firehouse and say, “Excuse me, but I have paying guests who expect quiet, comfort all night. Your emergency alarms are disturbing their slumber. Can you please silence your alarms so our valued guests can get the quiet night sleep that they are paying for?”
“That siren only sounds when the trucks are exiting the fire house for emergencies. It is to make sure that any people out in public are aware that the fire trucks are responding to an emergency, and they need to give the fire trucks the right of way.” I said.
“Well this whole thing is strange to me. I just want to go back to sleep.” She said
“I promise, there is nothing to worry about, and it is safe to go back to sleep.” I said politely. The woman hung up the phone.

I found it interesting that she was unable to grasp how I could be so calm about not caring about the sound of certain alarms. To me, that sound is just part of my every day life. I hear a siren, and I know it is just a local firehouse. There is no need for me to be concerned, and I don’t have to do anything in response to that alarm. All I need to know is that some fire trucks are on the road, and I need to make sure to stay out of their way.

Clearly that woman is from a place where that exact alarm means there is an emergency that needs the attention of anyone within earshot of its sound. The woman heard the siren, and not knowing the area, she became concerned about how she was expected to respond to it. She probably thought there was a public emergency, and experienced some panic because she didn’t know what the emergency was, and she didn’t know what to do about it, or how it would affect her.

I wonder how a person coming from a place where a siren is a warning to people about bombing and missile threats, would react to a firehouse siren?

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