Thursday, October 15, 2009

Starting to ignore...

I'm starting to ignore people. Not on purpose, it's just happening because I live here. People avoid eye-contact with strangers, fearing they may have to be polite. I don't get it.

I always tell people who ask that what I miss most about America is the chit-chatting. Anyone in America is potentially a chat buddy.

Here's what I mean. You can talk like this in America to anyone without catching them at all off-guard...

"Wow, what a long line. Is it at least moving?"
"Can you believe the rain today? I just love your umbrella, by the way."
"Nice car. I saw the same one at the dealership. How do you like it?"

If the person in question were to look at you funny or not answer. THEY would be the weird, anti-social person. In which case, you'd invariably say "Okaaaay. Guess not," and give other people in earshot the hairy eyeball, like "can you believe this guy?"

Here, people don't really do that. I get away with it a little more because I am American, but NO ONE will initiate small talk. They just don't do it. And they avoid "embarrassing" situations by not making eye-contact with passersby.

I had something so normal happen that fucked with me in a major way because I realized how much the Dutch is rubbing off on me.

There is a narrow bridge between here and the supermarket. I take my bakfiets over it, but it's a tight squeeze if someone is coming the other direction on foot or on a bike.

On the day in question, an older couple was crossing the bridge slowly. The wife crossed first, and stood admiring the swans on the canal while waiting for her husband (who had a cane) to catch up.

I was barrel-assing home on the bike when I saw them. I stopped the bike and re-adjusted the groceries on my bike rack to make them more stable and to give the man the chance to cross. Here's the scary thing: I didn't NEED to adjust the groceries. They would have been fine. I was AVOIDING having to interact with a stranger without even realizing it! In the US, I would have stopped, smiled and said "Take your time. I have to fix my groceries anyways," to keep him from rushing.

What was amazing (probably because the guy was Surinami and not DUTCH Dutch) is that the man said "Did you stop just for me? You didn't have to," and smiled. Get this. I said "no, I had to adjust my groceries"!!!!!!!! So that he wouldn't feel put out that I changed my plan for him. Because that is what Dutch people do. It may sound subtle - and it is - but anyone who lives here will know what I am talking about.

It's like how when you are on a tram and you accidentally step on someone's foot. They won't even look at you; they'll just take half a step away. Not rude, just not talking. In the US, you'd share embarrassed looks and a "sorry," followed by "no, that's ok."

Really. Go on the tram and try it. I'll wait right here.


Moeder said...

You are so right. Yesterday I had an experience that sums up two of your posts. I was sitting in a cafe having a cup of coffee when in walked a mother from my kids' school. She has greeted me with a smile on occasion, but maybe that's only for school. When I looked up and said, "hoi!" to her I could tell that she was annoyed that I even looked up. But then she actually sat down right next to me and continued to ignore me. The cafe was practically empty. Hilarious. At least you have some distance. I usually take it personally.

FoxSan said...

I too recognize this situation and I'm trying to break with this because for some reason I'm starting to do random stuff too to avoid contact.

With many older people you have to be careful these days because they draw conclusion a bit too fast and think whatnot of you. A simple nod will do and is mostly answered by a nod and a tiny smile. (as in 1. Oh my, a polite person or 2. Phew, he didn't mug me.)

I've been in the States a lot and it's always a pleasant culture shock to encounter people who actually want to chit-chat. In Holland one needs to mind their own business and that is clearly noticeable unfortunately.

BUT, if a someone in a store in the US asks me "how are you today?" and I reply with "Fairly well, thank you and how are -you-?
" then I encounter a awkward silence sometimes. It's funny. xD

Anyway, keep trying. Whether it's for a cheap laugh at someone who suddenly tries to get away or to bump into something really interesting ^^

Veel plezier xD

Anonymous said...

Just watch, you'll get so used to it that when you go back to the US and strangers start chatting with you, you'll think to yourself, 'What do they WANT? Why are they talking to me? Why don't they shut up and go away?"

You think I've been here too long?