Tuesday, January 13, 2009

stranger in a strange land

i did, in fact, survive my ikea run. turns out that going on an ordinary tuesday morning, half an hour from opening time is a great time to go. i parked second from the end closest to the door (that usually only happens to husband, he has the world's best parking karma) and didn't have to battle any crowds. it seemed to be largely old people and a nursing home for younger handicapped folks on an outing. they seemed to be enjoying themselves, so no stress. the only drawback was that they were out of the shades i went there for (which didn't stop me from buying 2,000 kroner of other stuff--why can't i just walk past the fabric section?). i did, however, find the shades in another store nearby, so no return trip to ikea anytime soon (phew). but enough of all that boring crap...i just thought i had to give you an update since i had issued such a dire warning this morning.

* * *

after my big spree in ikea, i went to buy groceries. in the grocery store, i witnessed one of those things that i simply cannot, from a cultural standpoint, even after more than ten years living in this country, understand.  from my perspective, danes are really closed. there's no public chatting with strangers. there's no greeting you if they don't know you. and there is a curious lack of awareness that other people exist in public spaces.

nearly every time i'm out in public, i have at least one experience wherein i'm standing, waiting patiently to get past someone who is taking up the entire aisle and is entirely oblivious to the fact that anyone might want past. this happens both in the grocery store and in the car, especially in a parking lot. a total and utter obliviousness to the very existence of other people. and, because of cultural pressure, no one ever says anything, so i end up feeling that i can't even really say "excuse me" to go by, you just have to wait until they meander on to the next door of the dairy case. most of the time, it never even dawns on them that they were in someone's way.

this obliviousness to others can also result in them directly running into you or over your foot with their cart or their baby carriage. and 8 out of 10 times, you will not get an apology for this. you will hardly be deemed worthy of a look and by god, what the hell were you doing there anyway, they completely didn't notice you because you didn't meet back in kindergarten when they met all the people they needed for a lifetime.

so today, while i was standing in line for bread (and feeling rather soviet), i saw a woman run smack into a person in a wheelchair--totally her fault, not even remotely his, by the way. and not just any wheelchair, but a really special, motorized one that the person in question was operating by resting his chin on a special joystick. so an extremely handicapped person. and this woman just gave the man some kind of a smirk, but did not utter even the slightest whisper of an apology. it may very well be that the person in the wheelchair lacked the power of speech, but didn't he deserve an "excuse me?"

i was dumbfounded and found that my heart was actually pounding. with some effort, i held myself back from leaving the line and going over and asking the woman, loudly and in front of all of kvickly (that was the name of the grocery store), what her problem was that she couldn't even have the common courtesy to apologize to a deeply disabled person. and i have kicked myself ever since. what is it that stops me in such a situation? it's the pressure of the culture around me. but it's also a desire not to appear righteous, which i also deeply dislike. i could have overcome the culture by confronting her in english, thereby displaying that i'm not of this culture. but i didn't do it. and i really wish i had.

i fear i'll never really understand the danes, because i can't make up an explanation in my head that makes such a situation ok. there's no common courtesy, no common decency in it, especially for a people who are otherwise all about welfare and being certain people are provided for. maybe it's that people think they did their part in giving 50% of their salary in taxes, and that's as far as their human decency extends.  it's not that i feel superior, i just don't think i'll ever really get used it.


Just Jules said...

Glad you made it back from IKEA! I was starting to worry :) Isn't it amazing the fact that people can be so egocentric.... and aren't we glad we know better? Feel better knowing today that you have a strong moral compass; you are not them.

Tess Kincaid said...

My daughter spent some time in Amsterdam last year and mentioned the same things about the culture being very closed, to the point of being rude.

I'm envious of your IKEA!

Barb said...

I think you did the right thing to maintain your silence. You just never know how someone might react - violent or otherwise. It's not that I condone out right rudeness such as you witnessed, but you could have encountered a very strong reaction. I'm also a firm believer in "what goes around comes around" - she'll get hers someday.

Now, for the Ikea run, don't forget to show us your fabric. And BTW, did you finish your quilt in a day project?? Barb xo

julochka said...

jules--i definitely didn't mean to sound like i felt superior...more bewildered. but you're right, i felt my moral compass was in place and hers definiteily wasn't (so maybe i do feel superior!) :-)

willow--it might be a northern european thing, perhaps climate-based? and yes, ikea is awesome.

barb--i did finish the quilt top that day, but i'm rubbish at binding. and tomorrow, i promise i will take photos, it was too dark and dreary by the time i got home.

Molly said...

VW -
mingon ~ the kind of a*hole who bumps into disabled people in public and doesn't apologise!

Janni said...

Hi Julie

You are so right about us (the danes). I think it is the way are brought up - to mind our own bussiness. Even on the bus i really hate it when people talk to me, "why can't they just leave me alone??" Stupid, I know! I can't say why we are like this, for me it's like i can't see any reason why i should talk to anybody in Netto (supermarket). I know i would be more fun to buy milk and eggs - if the shopping came with a little chat.

i must defend my self by saying that i do answer if someone talks to me and I do apoligize if i bump in to someone. But i will probably never start a conversation with a stranger with out a purpose - and my world is probably smaller because of it.

Delena said...

We Canadians especially the ones out west talk or say hello to everyone it seems. I try not to get too friendly with nearby neighbors, just a hi and idle chit chat. I think if we got too close and then had a disagreement it would be hard to live by each other. We do however invite them over if we are going to have a noisy party!

Just Jules said...

Oh, please know that I was referring to the rude people as ego centric! I agree with you. I find that is becoming a bit of an issue here in the states even (and if it is happening in MN land of the nice - imagine other places!) My heart went out to you and I hope you know I was in agreement with what you said. You were better (superior) you knew what that lady did was wrong, yet you held your tongue and spared any type of unnecessary "scene" as we would call it here ;) I felt for you. Sorry if you misunderstood my comment.

Andi said...

Wow, yeah that would've been hard for me to stomach: cultural difference or not! I'm not sure I could ever get used to it.

julochka said...

molly--mignon indeed.

janni--very interesting perspective and i in no way meant any offense to you as a dane! i'd just really like to understand this phenomenon because i see it so often! and frankly, i don't really talk to anyone in netto either, except to ask them to open another cash register. ;-)

delena--i know what you mean about that.

jules--i wasn't the least offended, it actually made me realize i might have sounded superior and i didn't mean to do that! or maybe i actually did, because i would have apologized to the guy in the wheelchair if i had walked right into him the way she did and that does make me feel superior!! no offense taken!!!

andi--me neither, that's the whole problem!