Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Quick Gripe: Where the Sidewalk Ends

 I think I’ve paid enough dues to Norway through sheer goodwill and positive word-of-mouth to be allowed a chance to gripe just a bit about something that’s bugged me for some time. It won’t take long, but it’ll probably make a few people angry—although those people will probably be the ones that comprise the topic of this entry. But I need to get it out of my system regardless. And although I have an inkling of better judgment that’s telling me not to write this, it doesn’t matter. I’m right.

Most—and I do emphasize “most” and not “all”—Norwegians need to be more considerate on the public walkways—streets, sidewalks and bike paths—of this country. I’ve caught more shoulders, received more stoic stares screaming “Get out of my way” and been forced into oncoming traffic more times in Norway than in any other place in the world. When “most” Norwegians are walking in clusters, they tend to not move if you’re going the other way, forcing you into the street and to a certain gruesome death. I’ve almost needed to be scraped off the grill of a Peugeot five times now. Usually, you’ll get bumped into without so much as an “unnskyld”—or, pardon me. Half the time I see one of these particularly determined walkers I find myself waiting to watch them walk straight through café walls like The Terminator and order a coffee—by just saying “kaffe”—while casually brushing off pieces of rubble. Do you really realize it when a tiny fruit fly is obliterated and disemboweled on your windshield when you’re traveling 130 kph down the free way? No. Perhaps Norwegians don’t feel your shoulder either as they turn it into fly slime.

Many here—of course, not everyone—don’t stand much for courtesy on the streets. This baffles me since this country has a lot of rules that people happily follow to improve the collective quality of life. And since Norwegians largely obsess over following the rules of the road while they’re in cars, it seems that such obedience should transfer to pedestrians and cyclists as well. Not so much. Maybe stricter walking rules are needed. And forget those bike and walking lanes on the sidewalks, they don’t really work.

I am expecting lots of “New York is worse”; “it’s all in your head”; or “that doesn’t really happen” in response to this. But it really is a pervasive issue. And the funny thing is; this will mostly fall on deaf ears. Norwegians feign interest in attracting tourists with their cruises, but, in general, they like their country to themselves and don’t care what outsiders think: “Nei til EU” is one example—although a fair point on their part. (Seriously Norway, you are better than the EU and don’t need them). The most likely response from a Norwegian if you’ll tell them about the “street problem” will be something along the lines of “well we are fine the way we are and don’t really care what you think.” They’ve been dealing with the stereotype that “Norwegians are rude” for some time now. So I understand their exasperation. And I’m not even going to talk about the common foreigner mistake of assuming Norwegians are rude because they are quieter: that’s clearly ridiculous and not the case. But people here should consider being a little more “space conscious” and friendly on the cities’ walkways of Norway. Don’t do it for the sake of foreigners; do it for yourselves if nothing else.

Okay, that’s all for now. It’s out of my system and less of you like me: I guess I’ll have to live with that trade off. In the next entry I’ll try to make up for it with my usual ode to Norway. And, in the meantime, if you see a guy walking down the streets in American football pads, don’t laugh at me.


  1. I agree in part, also i find on public transport Norwegians are unable to wait until the bus/tram is at the stop they must get up as soon as the bus/tram leaves the stop before and push their way to the door even if the bus/tram is packed full and its coming to the last stop so everyone will be getting off anyways. and when it comes to getting on the bus/tram Norwegians seem to think it is a system of get on first let people get off after! grrr it really grinds my gears! when it comes to the politeness thing though i think it is more of a lingustic difference than a politeness one, where in english saying sorry or excuse me is a fairly normal and generally polite way of behaving in Norwegian using unnskyld in that circumstance comes across as slightly over polite (maybe not a bad thing but also not a standard thing) I remember i found the who saying vær så god thing before the other person says takk (or a variation of it) pretty difficult to understand because obv if someone in english says you're welcome before you have had a chance to say thank you it is generally in a sarcastic i can't believe you are so rude and haven't said thank you to me yet, kind of way but in Norwegian it just isn't used like that. i guess that is the joy of learning a new language , having to forget all the politeness markers you know and love and learn to understand and use the new ones (although i still cannot bring myself to say you're welcome to someone without them saying thank you first, feels too weird) anyways yep ramble ramble :)

  2. I'm still trying to figure this one out after several years of living here because Norwegian pushy-ness on the streets, in the supermarkets and in line for a drink at the bar does not match up with the personality of most Norwegians I have met! So I chalk it up to Viking culture. There was *some* reason this land produced a get-outta-my-way-I'm-taking-over culture like the Vikings! :)

  3. Norwegian social protocols are all about giving each other space. Because Norwegians came late to the concept of urbanization and crowds. While there is an understanding that the normal rules for personal space cannot apply when queuing for a bus or on a crowded sidewalk, axuillary protocols for such situation have simply not developed yet.

  4. It is not any different here in Germany. It is very,very similar - identical. In Germany people are very pushy, on the streets they do not move to make space, they run to enter the buses or trains first (although there is plenty of space), and the bikers - they are expecting you, a pedestrian to make space for them although they are invading the sidewalk.