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On beds

When I was growing up, I was taught the proper way to make a bed. I can remember my stepmother telling me the right order in which to apply the sheets. The fitted sheet went on first, followed by the flat sheet. In the winter, a blanket of some sort would go on next, followed by the comforter. Finally, on particularly cold nights, there would be an additional blanket placed above the comforter. Not that it was a particular point of attention, but it seemed that most other kids I knew used the same layout. I grew up set in the knowledge that, whatever else happened, I knew the correct method for constructing a comfortable bed.

I utilized the same technique when I went to college and had to buy my own bed linens for the first time. Again, it seemed to make sense, and shopping for these various bits of bedding was relatively easy as the shops all seemed to have things categorized in roughly the same fashion. Here, of course, I made the addition of the 'egg crate' style foam mattress pad (as so many undergraduates must) atop the mattress and under the fitted sheet. It was the only way to make the bed habitable. Otherwise, there weren't too many changes and most people again seemed to use a similar system.

I retained this style upon moving to Boston and having to acquire my own bed and mattress. It served me well during my time there, and the 'egg crate' again came in handy as my lofted bed and limited finances made a large plush mattress unfeasible. As is widely known, I wasn't exactly spending a lot of time in the beds of other people, but from what I could tell, variation was limited. I had every right to assume that this setup was used the world over.

However, when it came time to buy linens for my bed here in London, I learned otherwise. It's odd to think of it, really, that something as simple and universal as bedding can change in any significant way, but it can and does. I learned that here, a fitted sheet might not be as common as I'd imagine. Often, a flat sheet is folded around the mattress instead. Sometimes another flat sheet is used in the same role as that to which I was accustomed, but not always. And 'comforters' are almost unheard of.

Here there's something called a 'duvet' which looks quite similar to a comforter and serves mostly the same purpose. The duvet is covered, however, much in the same manner as a pillowcase around a pillow, whereas a comforter is never covered, to my knowledge. In winter, the duvet is often folded in half within its cover, or sometimes a thicker duvet is used. It is rather normal for there to be no other linens than a flat sheet, pillowcase, and covered duvet. This system is by no means universal, but is used in one fashion or another throughout a lot of Europe. It was quite strange to me to be confronted, in the shops, with totally different bits of bedding, and I found it all more than a little alienating.

By now, you're probably wondering why I'm going on and on about bed linens. Perhaps I've bored you enough to make you dive into your own. However, I'm speaking somewhat metaphorically while telling this true tale. You see, we ALL do this, on almost every level, without knowing it. Nowhere is this any more true than with our personal belief systems.

We are, most of us, raised in a particular faith. At the very least, we are raised in a community where a particular faith is prevalent or where a couple faiths, perhaps, split the population. In either event, we come to think that this is normal, that this is pretty much the way the rest of the world works. The variations we encounter don't differ too greatly from our own systems. A Catholic and a Congregationalist differ slightly in tenets, much like how some people might use two pillows instead of one, or slip an extra blanket in above the flat sheet. We are able to conceptualize these setups as 'normal' or somewhat universal and move on with our lives.

Then, when we encounter systems that differ more fully, we note the 'strangeness' of these practices and at first we think them bizarre. 'Duvets? How very interesting!' we might think, just as we might wonder at something like the religious practices of faiths that aren't only minimally different from our own. We can only ever see these as 'other' to us, or perhaps become used to them after some time. We also forget the fact that our system, be it for bedding or faith, might be just as 'other' or alienating to the rest of the world.

Truthfully, the only thing that caused me to be a fitted-flat-comforter person instead of a flat-duvet-cover person was blind chance. The DNA that gave rise to the brain which enables my particular consciousness came from parents situated in New England, not Olde England. The same applies to the people I've met here, who've also had little to no idea that their system of bedding was not universal. The 'accident' of our births determines the bedding we find normal.

Naturally, this is also true for our faiths. Because of the strong Catholic ties of one of my parents (and those of his own VERY Catholic parents), I was raised as a Catholic and came to see Catholicism as normal. The same, no doubt, holds for you and your faith. Were you or I born in Iran, we'd be just as convinced that the principles of Islam were correct and universal, and just as alienated by the realization that this is not necessarily the case. Like our choice in bedding, our choice in faith is a matter of comfort and, sometimes, it's hard to find comfort in any other system.

Four months on, I've become more or less accustomed to the duvet method. It is possible to adapt. However, I'm still using both a fitted and a flat sheet. In other words, it is often difficult to shake off the 'correctness' of the system chance brought us into, even though the others are no less comfortable or useful. There truly can be no single 'correct' way to sleep, just as there isn't any 'correct' faith. I am making no argument for the appropriateness of my own 'beliefs' (such as they are) to any of your lives. ( I suppose, given my inclinations, I'd have to argue against sleeping at all if I were trying to convert anyone :-P) All I am attempting to do here is to indicate the arbitrariness and insularity of the faiths into which we were born, and to get you to think about whether or not there is truly any other reason you sleep or believe the way that you do.

It would be a silly, silly thing indeed to dislike someone simply because they used no flat sheet and only a blanket without a larger cover like a duvet or comforter. It would be folly to refuse to elect a person simply because they found it uncomfortable to sleep with more than one pillow, or under anything heavier than a thin sheet. We would laugh off a ruler who claims the Divine Right of Bodypillows, or find it absurd to war for territory because of the proximity of the factories that produce sheets for both the silk Sheetites and Polyesterists. And you would be unlikely to get upset if I asked you why you choose to use flannel sheets in winter. Nor would anyone be offended if I stated a preference for blue-colored bedding. Let's not even get into box springs, no-flip mattresses, or questions of the proper amount of time to wait between washing.

My whole point is: whether you believe in a god, or do not; whether you were taught to think all beds were made in the image of some king-sized mattress in the sky, or that all bed sets arose via slight variations over time thanks to the unforced hand of the Blind Bedmaker -- it is ESSENTIAL that you think about WHY you believe and sleep the way you do, and figure out whether you have reasons beyond the arbitrary 'normality' you attach to your family's methods. There is not any one answer that will satisfy everyone, even though there can realistically be only one answer that's true. We may never actually discover what that answer is, although we will most definitely continue to seek for it.

But while failing to see the randomness of your bed linens is unlikely to hurt you or anyone else in the long run, failing to note the arbitrariness of your faith or the code of morals it breeds can have very major consequences. As silly as it would be to elect a leader because they believed that a 'bed' is defined ONLY as the meeting between a mattress and a box spring and NEVER two mattresses, one atop the other, it is equally silly to elect someone who refuses two men or two women the right to be married and treated equally under the law. Both stances arise from the happenstance of birth into a faith, and certainly don't stand up to rational inquiry.

So please, THINK about why you believe what you believe. Use reason, fight arbitrariness, and realize that nothing about beds or gods is universal and uniform. Whether you sleep best atop all of your sheets, under your bed, or hanging upside down like Batman, that is YOUR choice and the regulations and results of that choice should not be imposed on others. With a little more thought, and a lot more reason, I think that all of us will sleep a little more soundly.


Very well written, I laughed out loud at the Blind Bedmaker :)

I think this is why it's so good to travel, broaden the old horizons etc. It's sometimes too easy to assume universal truths when in reality it's just our way of doing things.
Thanks. I almost went with a variation using 'The Bed Delusion,' but thought it somehow less amusing.

I agree with you whole-heartedly about travel. Even there, it still too often breeds the whole 'oh-so-quaint' view of other cultures, but every once in a while a person sees the mannerisms of another country and realizes that their own methods are equally quaint to the rest of the world.

One of the drawbacks of the US is that a lot of our travel is consigned to exploring our own country. With good reason, too, as it's a huge place and has tons of amazing things to offer. But it's all AMERICA through and through. One can travel a certain distance in Europe and meet three thoroughly distinct nations, each with it's own language, culture, and identity, while traveling the same distance in the US might not even get you out of one state. Hell, Yellowstone National Park here is almost the size of my home state!


From Lycanthrope (you noes me)

First off let me say I'm glad you got somewhere in that without going into too much detail about bedsheets and the like (I just kept thinking, where is he going with this!? =D). I also enjoyed the "sheetites" or whatever, that was some good punnery (spell check only knows of gunnery and nunnery lawl).

You make a valid point, if people used reason then they would discover why many of their held beliefs are absurd. I think the reason why we still see things like this is because for some dogmatic practices triumph over reason. And while I can only "believe" that every human being on this earth is capable of some level of intelligent reasoning, sheer example proves that not everyone is using reason effectively.

Lastly, let me just say that I kept thinking about how I make beds. And the only thing I could think of is that I really do not have a system. All I can guarantee you is that I sleep between two sheet-like elements (and sometimes that isn't even the case 8-) ). My bed has always been a minimalistic view of controlled chaos. It's interesting how one's insights on bedsheet manner can turn into an introspective look at one's very being **smokes pipe**

Re: From Lycanthrope (you noes me)

Ya know, for some reason I thought this message was coming from an actual LiveJournal account and I was like 'Yes! He finally started up that blag he was talking about!!' Then when I realized it was just an anonymous post, I was quite disappointed.

Yet I'm glad to hear from you, regardless :) My sister wanted to let you know that the 'Elfin Treasures' in that little cabinet thing are OK and she didn't collapse the Elf economy after all. So that's good news.

I wish everyone would USE reason, even if to get to a different conclusion than I do, but I guess the law of averages is always going to show that to be impossible.