Saturday, May 30, 2009

Adventures in State-Sponsored Autism

This post has two parts, the whiny Americentric part, and the more rational part.

WHINY AMERICENTRISM: Holy cow, is it ever strange walking around at the Bergkirchweih, or for that matter in any crowd in Franconia. You are, in the eyes and minds of everyone around you, a rock to avoided or elbowed aside. A complicated rock, because you are moving, but nonetheless a landscape feature without feelings or goals of your own.
So, suppose for example some lady is trying to push a stroller through a narrow space, holding a toddler in one hand and a backpack in the other. You, at the other end of the narrow space, stop and smile, indicating that she should come ahead (it's too narrow to pass each other.) Immediately the people behind will brush past, not even trying to avoid pushing you, and will walk through the narrow space. This will continue basically indefinitely. As far as they are concerned, unless they know the lady, or you, personally, you can just go screw.

Same thing at the grocery (yes, I used the Euro this time). If you leave a space, the person behind you will cut around you to take the space, even if you clearly trying to let someone past. After a while, I switched, and starting giving people the forearm myself. A little old lady tried to push past me, and I rammed her cart right into the bean cans. She didn't get mad, didn't say a thing.

It's like a pick-up basketball game, same rules. A really egregious foul would get you into a fight. But you don't call incidental contact, and "incidental" means no ambulance. And, in a pick-up basketball game, you would never tell your opponent, "you go ahead, I'll wait;" and then smile at them. But it is annoying to someone of Southern (southern US, not southern German) sensibilities. We tend to negotiate space, smile at each other, and even talk and laugh. It is considered actively rude here in Franconia to talk to someone unless you have been introduced. Asking for help is okay; that's the exception. But looking someone in the eye, smiling, talking: all way out of bounds.

RATIONAL PART: Fact is, I am the one being rude. These are the rules here; I can accept that, or leave. Trying to insist on my parochial conception of "manners" is actually pretty bizarre.

Look, the fact is that as long as everyone has the SAME expectations, and same conceptions of manners, it's all good. The problem is when you get a mix. Several times, I have caused minor bike-bump accidents when I slowed down to let someone in. No one, including the person being let in, expects that. And the fact is that they don't NEED to be let in. They are very skillful bike riders, and if the person merging just pushes in, the others accommodate skillfully and rapidly, though minimally. It goes much faster than the American system, where letting someone in is a courtesy, one that can be actively withheld. It would be rude here to EITHER (1) swerve to deny another bike a space, obviously and on purpose, OR (2) to slow down to let them in, making everyone else have to swerve unexpectedly. Think of the times in the US you have seen one car wave another car in, or obviously swerve to KEEP them from getting in. Neither of those things would happen here. And, when I think about it, I'm not sure but that this is a better system. (Though, they really should let the lady with the stroller, the kid, and the backpack through. I'm going to throw somebody through a fence if that happens again.)

So, *I* am the one being the jerk. When I think it over, I can see that that is clearly true. But it does take some getting used to, as others have noted.

Another example, from the US: Consider the "Pittsburgh Left Turn." Read this, for just a second, and then come back. Okay, got it?

Now, if a lot of people NOT from Pittsburgh are driving in Pittsburgh, there will be accidents. Who is being the jerk? Well, no one. The problem is a mix of cultures, and the consequent divergence of expectations and norms.

(I should acknowledge that NeanderBill told me about the Pittsburgh Left. And he knows from Left, I tell you).

15 comments:

Seth said...

This reminds me of walking across campus at UNC vs. walking across campus at NCSU. At NCSU, pedestrians would routinely compensate for other pedestrians -- you'd move a little to the side, they're move a little to the side, both folks would smile, and everyone would glide past each other smoothly. When I took classes at UNC, though, people didn't adjust, so when I adjusted my path out of habit, I would get odd glances, as if to ask "Why are you walking in a crooked line?" and I suffered many more close encounters with bumping into other people.

Given the author of this post, I'm going to plead the fifth with respect to walking across the Duke campus.

Arnold said...

This is interesting. I come from India, but have spent a fair bit of time in Germany. I initially found the Germans to be quite polite and convivial. This was, of course, in comparison with the Indians I was used to. For example, holding a door open for someone - irrespective of gender - is unheard of at the Indian office where I work. But in the German office everyone held the door open for everyone. Like you said, it's a cultural thing. One has to get used to it if one wants to live somewhere. Simple as that. Nice post.

Transcient said...

Thought I'd add the Melbourne hook-turn for entertainment purposes.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hook_turn

Marina Martin said...

When I visited Tokyo for the first time a few years ago, I was immediately struck by how socially acceptable it was to shove people down the subway stairs if they were in your way. I long to do this whenever I'm in Manhattan, but fear criminal prosecution, and so I lamely miss train after train stuck behind slow-as-molasses people descending the stairs. But in Tokyo, little old ladies be damned!

In Germany, one related social norm that seriously impressed me was that parents tend to let their children learn lessons. You want to climb on that railing? Fine; when you fall and it hurts, you'll learn never to do it again. Again and again I saw parents in Herzo *let* their kids get hurt. (Not killed -- although there was zero hand holding when crossing the street, and I did witness one kid nearly get run over by a motorcycle and cry with fright. The father just shrugged. I was pleased.) So refreshing when juxtaposed with American helicopter parents.

Robert said...

Being from Franconia I have to set one thing straight, we are known as the by far most unfriendly people there is in Germany. When you're in a Biergarten somewhere else in Bavaria (not where the tourists usually go, because there tend to be no locals) you can chat with people easily (at least as a German).

Brian said...

Hello guys I like your post because it is very important because in my family two members suffer of this disease and I want to buy Generic Viagra because I need to take it to have sex

Young Women Older Men said...

I like to know more about this activities to assist whit my family to help you.

Packaging Dude said...

At least I now know where to go if I'm after generic viagra
Packer, the stretch wrappers guy

Studio Design said...

Excellent post I want to do a do foundation to people with autism because my son suffers this problem.

inversiones financieras said...

Thanks for sharing this information . Your blog posting is very good and theme base for which it is liking to every people.

laser keyboard said...

Very interesting and professional post about Adventures in State-Sponsored Autism thanks for sharing!!

Anonymous said...

Well dude, I really appreciate this post because this is exactly the article I needed 6 months ago when I was planning our trip to Italy! Buy Cialis

London Crumpet said...

London escorts directory London Crumpet is created to expose Independent escorts and escort agencies in London. Everybody can post their advert on this directory for FREE.

Wizard of Pack said...

Great article, says the stretch wrappers expert.

Wizard of Pack said...

Do you really get wiser as you get older, says the stretch wrappers expert.