Culture Clash[Author’s note: Originally written by Mark Chessman. It was rewritten with permission, by barelin and edited by megansdad. Culture Clash takes place in the Upper Danubia universe created by Edward EC also known as caligula97030 on deviantart.com
A brief explanation of the culture of Danubia before we start our story, Danubia was formerly a republic before changes in government. The country was split into two parts; Upper Danubia (where this story takes place) and Lower Danubia. It is one of the smaller nation-states in Eastern Europe.
The revolution that took over the government of Danubia closed down all detention facilities within the country. A complete overhaul of the judicial system led to the policy that no one would be detained for more than twenty-four hours at a time for the commission of a crime. Those accused of a crime have a speedy trial of the offense.
The new judicial system has implemented two forms of punishment that are usually used together. Collaring is done with an electronic monitoring neck collar, locked into place for the duration of the criminal’s sentence. The second aspect of criminal punishment is the corporal nature of caning or whipping with a tawse. The criminal courts require the criminal to be collared with a steel collar. This collar is attached with a special device that permanently locks the collar in place. It can only be removed by another device that destroys the locking mechanism. If a criminal tries to remove the collar the police will be alerted and the GPS will allow the police to track their last location. The collar also emits a debilitating electric shock if the lock is tampered with. Criminals are deprived of all clothing, during the full duration of their sentence.
Strapping with a leather device called a tawse (a two- to three-foot-long leather strap one and a half inches wide with the end notched) is done upon the bare buttocks and thighs of the criminal. The usual adult sentence consists of fifty lashes upon sentencing, issued every three months throughout the sentence.
The officer administering the blows must take care to raise welts visible to the witnessing judge to ensure that the skin is not broken. To do so would cause the officer to lose their job. Lesser switching punishments are administered for children and certain infractions within schools and institutions, not of a criminal nature.
To see a naked criminal collared and going about their life within Danubian society is not a rarity. Criminals must have work that keeps them in public view, so delivery men, waitstaff, and store clerks are acceptable jobs. Unlike in other countries where the criminals work within the grounds of the detention facility. As there are no prisons, criminals usually live with their families and under the supervision of the courts.
Nudity practiced by the average citizen is also not uncommon in Danubian society. All physical education and health club activity is done nude by all citizens. Soon after the revolution, one of the first laws passed forbade the wearing of all swimwear. As a result of this law all swimwear was returned to the manufacturer; making swimwear unavailable anywhere within the country.
Lastly, in the Danubian religion, there is a provision for a rite called Public Penance. A penitent goes before the priest and confesses a sin in life that needs correction and then voluntarily surrenders the right to wear clothing for some time until the priest and penitent agree the penitent has atoned for the sin. A person may also become a penitent in support of a family member, as a show of family honor.]
Marcia Shevat was fourteen years old when the event that would shake her life occurred. Born and raised on Army posts, she had lived in and moved to more military towns by age twelve than most civilians move in a lifetime. Marcia was living in Fort Riley, Kansas, with her parents at the time of the event that would determine the course of the rest of her life.
Marcia had learned to swim the summer before she started Kindergarten and had continued to take swim classes through fourth grade. Then, at age ten, Marcia was taught to swim competitively at Fort Leonard Wood. Marcia was a member of the YMCA swimming team under the twelve divisions and transferred to the YMCA all-swimming team.
From age twelve until she was fourteen, Marcia would swim in every event she could. It looked as if she would compete in the Pan Am Games, then the Junior Worlds, and be ready for the Olympics during her college years.
One day she returned home after a high school swim meet to find a chaplain, a Major from her father’s unit, and a Senior Master Sergeant sitting in the living room of the base house. Her mother was weeping, her brothers were stone silent. Marcia knew this was very bad. She dropped her swim duffle bag and ran in to ask her mother what had happened.
“Your father,” her mother sobbed, “he’s…” and could go no further. The Chaplain said, “Marcia, your father has died in a field training exercise. ‘Training my ass,’ Marcia thought. ‘He died on a mission in a country he shouldn’t have been in.’ It happened to the hummer your father was in. He was trapped after it rolled over while they failed to climb a muddy grade bank. He died when an exposed tree root busted the windshield and penetrated his chest. There was nothing anyone could do.”
Life was a blur after that, and although the Army was very sorry for our loss, the Shevat family still had to vacate the post-housing within six months of the death. The only plus was the Veteran’s benefits (money, the continuation of medical, and the IDs that let us shop at the base PX Note: PX stands for Post Exchange. Think of it as a military version of a Walmart supercenter). They settled into a smaller modular home in Lawrence, Kansas, and tried to get on with their lives as normally as possible.
Modesty was not something swimmers and divers were known for, as ill-fitting team suits were notorious for dropping off a diver in an entry or a swimmer hoisting her body up a ladder from the pool. Indeed, Marcia herself had been a victim of such a ‘water stripping.’ When she first transferred to the civilian high school and tried out for the swim team she was issued a team swimsuit marked her size but felt loose. Launching off the starting block for a hundred-meter freestyle event she lost the straps on the top of the suit entering the water and lost the rest of the bathing suit mid-pool on the return.
A newspaper photo of Marcia, with one hand raised in victory while the other clutched a hastily grabbed towel barely covering her front, was clipped and pasted in many of the school’s lockers, both male and female.
A fifth place in the Olympic trials, while not good enough to secure a place on the team higher than the second alternate, got the attention of several good Midwestern Universities. Marcia decided on the all-expenses scholarship to the University just outside Chicago. In exchange for her athletics, Marcia would receive room, board, books, fees, travel expenses, and a team uniform allowance. A mandatory grade point average of 3.0 was an expectation of the school. She and her mother expected a 3.5.
Practice, meets, classes, and starting over again became Marcia’s campus routine. Once again, most of her friends were teammates. Hanging out in the steam room, sauna, or hot tub provided in the athlete’s dorm became Marcia’s relaxation. Again, like-minded young women, and some of the guys from the other floors in the co-ed athlete’s dorm, would pad around the hall nude or nearly so. So familiar with each other’s bodies that they all became comfortable with nudity. By the end of the first semester, we had by unspoken agreement, decided not to hook up with each other. They were buds, pals, and almost brother and sister in relating to each other; however, sexual tensions were minimal.
Then came the day, Sophomore year, late in the first semester, when in the mandatory class named Inter-Cultural Sociological Studies, taught by Professor Sarah Bushnell, Marcia asked a question. It was one little question that was to have a profound impact on her life. Doctor Bushnell had been a part of an exchange program, about the third year the program had been in existence. She explained how the program of exchanging students that the National University of Danubia had started.
She mentioned the lack of competitive sports programs within the academic tier from grade school through university. Marcia shot up her hand and asked the question. “Young lady,” her professor announced to the class, “You are the first to ask that question. I believe it needs proper research. Please see me after class.” Marcia’s heart sank. Proper research usually meant a fifty-page paper on the topic, with a bibliography not drawn from Wikipedia.
Sarah Bushnell, B.A., M.S., Ph.D., had recently risen from Adjunct Professor to a full professorship at the University. She is an alumna of the Danubian/University exchange program and a junior member of the University selection team for prospective students requesting participation in the ‘year abroad program.’
The usual grouping of Social Science majors, with a smattering of Language, Earth Sciences, and Engineering, had filed applications earlier following the previous academic year. The selectees were already signed up for Danubian Society and Culture and Danubian Language 101. Sarah Bushnell saw in her non-major student a potential to add something to the exchange mix.
As a Physical Education major, who hoped to become a Physical Education teacher and coach at the high school level, Marcia Shevat was not within the traditional disciplines for exchange. Perhaps she would be a small pebble to ripple the pond of sameness achieved in the nine years the program had been in effect.
The idea in Dr. Bushnell’s mind was to begin widening the exchange program and give other majors a chance to be exposed to the Duchy and its culture. She needed a curious-minded individual not afraid to ask questions that challenged traditional thought. Marcia had asked the question, and light had appeared in her professor’s mind Dr. Bushnell wanted to have her as a candidate if the rest of the University committee and the representatives of the Danubian government, education department, and clergy agreed.