Saturday, April 10, 2010

A representative moment

This scene takes place on a city bus, in the city where I live. It happened yesterday. I had to go to the Children's Hospital with la cocotte (nothing serious). Since we have been extremely fortunate with her health, I actually had NO idea how to get to the Children's Hospital and so I duly did my research prior to leaving. I found out that the #10 bus would drop us off right at the front door while the #1 bus would drop us off 500 m and slightly downhill from the front door.

I chose the #1 bus because I know where its terminus is which meant I could wait, seated on the actual bus rather than waiting at a stop with la cocotte strapped to my chest. I sat down at the front so I would have a clear view of where we were and followed the bus' progress on my map so we would not miss our stop.

At the point where the #1 diverges from its shared route with the #10, the bus driver stopped the bus and came to see me. No, I had not spoken to him nor asked for his help prior. He asked is I was trying to get to the Children's Hospital. Um, yes, actually I was. He told me I should get off at this stop and transfer to the #10 bus. The small part of my brain which speaks Italian told him: "Grazie ma in effetti preferisco stare su questa autobus", which may or may not mean "Thanks but I would actually prefer to stay on this bus." At which point three other passengers joined into the conversation and assured me that transferring to the #10 bus at this point was the right way to get to the hospital. I wanted to say, "Thanks again, but I don't mind walking the extra distance and I just saw the #10 bus go by so I will have to wait a long time for it and I'm actually in a bit of a rush." But with the pressure these four people were exerting on me to get off the bus and also the pressure of the entire bus waiting for me to make my decision, the small part of my brain that speaks Italian just said: "Grazie." and I got off the bus.

Of course I didn't wait for the next #10 bus (which the schedule showed wasn't due for another 15 minutes). So rather than walking 500 m from the #1 bus stop, I walked about a mile along the #10 route to the hospital, the exact opposite intention of the friendly strangers on the bus.

Why am I recording all of this minutia? To me this little scene is very representative of what it is like to live here, both positive and negative. It is amazing to me that the bus driver noticed the baby and map, intuited where I must be headed and then took the time and trouble to intervene to stop me from making what he felt was clearly a mistake. It's further amazing to me that random people on the bus backed him up and helped me to exit thus saving me that terrible 500 m walk from the #1 bus stop. Surely in this town, no one would ever get beat up, attacked or mugged while passers-by on the streets averted their eyes. People are involved and engaged and there is a lot to be said for that.

On the flip side, it reinforces this notion I have of this place that people are very much "in one's business". Also there seems to be a RIGHT way to do things and not much flexibility or understanding of alternatives i.e. if there is a bus that goes to the hospital and a bus that goes 500 m from the hospital than to get to the hospital, one takes the bus that goes there. Period. No question of wanting the walk or (in my case) being too impatient to wait for a second bus. You take the right bus, that's all there is to it. Also, you listen to authority, be it the bus driver or whomever. I find in some ways things are quite authoritarian here to a degree that exceeds my comfort level.


  1. Ha. Good example of southern european culture! That would absolutely NEVER happen in Denmark. The only reason people EVER talk to strangers here is to share the fact that the weather is bad or the sauna is too hot, etc.

    And way to go with the Italian! And I actually understood. Guess knowing French is a help. Though understanding is one thing and speaking like you do is another.

  2. That is super interesting to know. I can't claim to know much about European culture (if one can really say there is aunifying European culture) or even Italian culture... just the culture of the area where I live so it is super interesting to know how it compares to other European countries/cities.