Sunday, February 10, 2013

Bring in the Faith-healer!

It's now time, I fear, that we must address an issue of some import to those hapless travelers to this faraway land.  I've alluded to this in previous posts—Planes, Trains, and... pt 2Inevitability; A Room of One's Own, part 3—yet decided against discussing it outright before I had a complete representation of the prevailing situation.  Creeping into my ninth month of residence here in this fairy tale city, though, I feel I've gathered sufficient data.

One sees it everywhere.  In point of fact it can't be avoided, and it spreads from person to person—a red tide, if you will, far away as we are from the sea.  You can track the infection as it multiplies.  No I, of all people, realize the delicacy which a discussion such as this requires and indeed I would not even feel I should bring it up but for one consideration which elicits some urgency and for which I cannot remain silent and it is this: that foreigners are not inoculated against this epidemic.

I was dismayed, when I first arrived, to see this condition taking hold of those around me, but comforted myself that such could never happen to me.  For months I even deluded myself that I suffered no ill effects from repeated and prolonged exposure.  But I can't pretend any longer.  A recent trip to the United Kingdom has confirmed my worst fears, and it's time to speak up.  If we continue to ignore this problem, it will always lurk there, just beneath the surface, just waiting for a chance to come back.

In the fair land of my birth we have never a lack of faith in anything.  In fact we have so much of it—faith—that we must needs address it in our constitution and in our schools, and everywhere in our daily lives.  We are a nation guided, nay ruled, by faith, and so I thought that even when I went abroad I should always carry enough of it with me.

I didn't have enough to save me from the epidemic lack of it here though.  Perhaps it is because it reveals itself so gradually, so innocuously, that by the time it becomes all-too-apparent, it is too late to do anything about it.  You find yourself standing at the bus stop perhaps, with three or four others.  A bus appears, lo-and-behold, on the horizon, destined for your stop.  At this point neither you nor anyone else is even sure it is that bus for which you are waiting.  One or two begin to creep forward, towards the front of the platform.  You wait, thinking to yourself, there are only three of them, there'll be plenty of opportunity to get on the bus.

The bus approaches, you see it is yours, you step to the curb, patiently waiting.  The bus is slowing, but not yet stopped, and you remain on the curb, confident that when it stops an orderly flow of people off will be followed by an orderly flow on.  Everywhere in life you've been conditioned to a certain faith in that great tool of orderly society: the line.  Roped off queueing areas are a commonplace, and respect for personal space before and behind an innate awareness.  But back to that bus stop.  Even before the bus comes to a complete stop an old grandma comes out of nowhere and not only gets in front of you, but practically pushes her way up the steps, through those trying to exit, and onto the bus. And all of this before your shocked, albeit patient, American foot has left the curb.

In shops and other places of business it can be even worse.  Lines, instead of being straight and true with an apparent beginning, middle, and end become amorphous masses when once they consist of above four members.  The ebb and flow with the whims and caprices of those standing in them, often growing at inexplicable places when a new queuer joins somewhere in the middle, the reasoning, I suppose, being that if you know someone in line you can simply join them, no matter the number of people already waiting, and the closer to the front the better.

Perhaps most perplexing for the classically-trained queuer is the personal space conundrum.  Whereas your average American has been raised knowing innately that a certain amount of space is afforded to the person in front of you, and also the proper measure of distance for indicating that newcomers may step in front of you—the 'please, I am only waiting for my sister, who you see ahead there, step in front of me' distance—may find standing in line here quite perplexing.  If one leaves even the slightest gap, it will soon be filled by someone too impatient to wait, and with no faith that the line will soon move forward, as all lines do, to its destined completion.

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