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New residents in unfamiliar housing circumstances adapt in unusual ways.

Published May 11, 2007

Claim:   New residents in unfamiliar housing circumstances adapt in unusual ways.


Example:   [Bennett, 2007]

The local council had built some new homes for rent, what in the UK is called "social housing." The design was a new one; they called them "cottage flats" because the buildings look like an ordinary 2-storey cottage but in fact consisted of two independent apartments, one on the ground floor and one on the floor above. Anyway, the homes had not long been occupied when for the first time before the downstairs tenants in one of the new cottage flats reported that the ceiling was damp. The housing officer went round and diagnosed the problem as condensation caused by inadequate ventilation. So he explained that they would redecorate the ceiling but the tenants must be sure to open windows regularly to let some air in. OK so far, but sure enough a few months later the tenants were back complaining of damp. This went on for some time, the housing officer getting more and more exasperated, the tenants more and more upset, until the old lady in the upper apartment fell ill and died.

When the housing officer entered the old lady's flat he found that she had laid turf on the floor to save the trouble of going out to walk the dog.


Origins:   "Your world frightens and confuses me!" was the common refrain of Cirroc, the unfrozen caveman character portrayed by Phil Hartman on Saturday Night Live. Cirroc fell into an ice crevasse one hundred thousand years ago and wasn't thawed out until 1988, but he nonetheless managed to turn his proclaimed trepidation at confronting our strange, scary modern world into an advantage while serving as a trial laywer:

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I'm just a caveman. I fell on some ice and later got thawed out by some of your scientists. Your world frightens and confuses me! Sometimes the honking horns of your traffic make me want to get out of my BMW ... and run off into the hills, or wherever ... Sometimes when I get a message on my fax machine, I wonder: "Did little demons get inside and type it?" I don't know! My primitive mind can't grasp these concepts. But there is one thing I do know — when a man like my client slips and falls on a sidewalk in front of a public library, then he is entitled to no less than two million in compensatory damages, and two million in punitive damages. Thank you.


similar principle is at work in a variety of legends

involving groups deemed to be ignorant and unworthy of the blessings of modern life, such as the poor, minorities, and immigrants. When such persons are thrust into newer and better (and therefore unfamiliar) living circumstances, they supposedly react just like the Clampetts in The Beverly Hillbillies, adapting their previous lifestyles to their newer surroundings, oblivious to how their actions affect or appear to others.

Besides the example cited above regarding the social housing resident who laid sod on her apartment floor to avoid the necessity of taking her dog out for walks, other examples of this motif include one about an airliner that crashed because a passenger from an "Arabian country" started a cooking fire in it:

I was told of an airplane fire caused by a passenger starting a cooking fire in the aisle. The plane was refused permission to land because the King's airplane was due and no others could land during that time. Subsequently the airplane crashed. Seems unlikely for a number of reasons, but my source claims it's true. I believe he said it was in an Arabian country.

Additional examples of this theme include the following:

  • Firefighters continually called out to deal with asylum seekers who are unfamiliar with modern electric appliances and keep starting cooking fires on their living room floors.
  • A social worker who discovers an impoverished client has laid paving material on his living room floor to save on the cost of carpeting.
  • Immigrants who cover the floors in their residences with soil so they can raise chickens and grow potatoes.
  • Immigrants who replace their homes' wooden floors with sand so they don't have to take their children out to playgrounds.
  • Native Americans who cut holes in their bathroom walls just above their tubs so their horses can drink without anyone's having to go outside and water them.

Last updated:   1 April 2014


    Bennett, Gillian.   Urban Legends: A Collection of International Tall Tales and Terrors.

    Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2007.   ISBN 0-313-33952-X   (pp. 15-16).

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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