What does Power Distance have to do with Jack Nicholson?
As explained here, Power Distance is at play in the way we relate to authorities. And what can be more of an authority than an emergency room doctor?
I don't think anybody who has ever watched the movie "Something's Gotta Give" will forget the sight of Jack Nicholson - or his "Dancing Harry" doubles - wearing hospital gowns. The sight is supposedly so offensive that you will not find a still online of Mr.Nicholson't back side but you can find the trailer on Youtube..
The scene would not have made as much of an impression on me, had I still lived in Denmark. The Danish culture is one of low Power Distance and even experts have to explain themselves.
Perhaps that is one of the reasons Danish hospital gowns are more like long loose shirts. Yes, they show quite a bit of thigh, but not more than if you were wearing a pair of shorts. And, by the way, Danish hospitals will usually also issue you a pair of - admittedly very un-sexy - boxer shorts. Covered up you are more on par with the shrub wearing doctors and visiting friends.
Now that I live in the much higher Power Distance U.S.A. and have worn a jonnie gown, I know exactly how mortified Harry/Jack Nicholson must have felt.
There are many good reasons why patients are issued hospital gowns. The primary is hygiene. Another is to eliminate belt buckles and bra clips. You don't want them disturbing X-ray pictures and you most certainly don't want to bring them into a MRI machine - the "M" is for a magnet so strong that it can pull a chair across the room with enough force to hurt a person.
But it seems that in order to induce enough respect for the local authority the patient has to wear something signalling less authority. And that is certainly achieved by forcing the patient to walk abound "butt naked"?
"Relax!" you might say. "They just are so much more at ease with their bodies that they think nothing of it."
Not so. This is a country where nursing mothers will cover up within their own homes, where little kids never splash happily naked in the surf, and where Speedos are replaced by bathing shorts to your knees anywhere outside of competitive sports.
You are even offered paper boleros for covering up when you have a mammogram and small paper sheets to cover you at the doctor; mainly preventing you to see the doctor because the doctor can see what he or she needs to see.
I feel more naked wearing paper than nothing at all - but I have to cover up to protect the doctor's sensitivities!
I have previously written about the informal ways Americans address each other. My doctor's office is an exception. Here I am always Mrs Wittenkamp even when I have voiced that it made me uncomfortable. The doctor explained that if I ever was in need of emergency assistance, her staff would help preserve my dignity by making sure I was addressed properly under circumstances that could otherwise be less dignifying.
I would respectfully suggest doing away with the johnnie gowns and paper sheets if they want to preserve dignity.
Some doctors still walk around with shirts and ties under jackets or lab coats as described in this New York TImes article. Unless they wear frequently changed scrubs, why should you be forced into ridiculous costumes to preserve some imaginary level of hygiene?
Perhaps this is not a discussion you want to take up with the tie-wearing surgeon who is later supposed to operate you. In a clinic that would require you to wear such embarrassing attire, he might not take kindly to you implicitly questioning his authority.