The Vine: August 25, 2010
I am writing because I find myself increasingly…angry. I live in London and have done so for almost ten years. Because of my family situation, I won't be leaving the city any time soon.
I find that the little things about urban living are getting to me. Drivers who honk at me because I'm not driving fast enough for them (I drive just over the speed limit, and have been caught by a speed camera for going 37 in a 30 zone — it's really easy to get caught speeding here). Cyclists who speed through crossings where pedestrians have the right of way, knocking old ladies (and, once, me) to the ground. Taxi drivers who hear my accent and disregard my perfectly clear instructions on which route to take.
I guess I just feel like the basic rules of interacting in society are being eroded, and it's really getting to me. These don't tend to be situations where you can calmly speak your mind, they tend to be situations that happen very quickly and then the person is gone. Sometimes I yell at the people who do these things, but that just ends up making me feel worse. But if I don't say anything, I feel like they…win, somehow? You've lived in a major city for a long time now — how do you avoid letting this kind of thing get to you?
Bikes are supposed to stop at zebra crossings, you know
I'd like to tell you that I have a trick for letting these things go, but I don't. I agree that it seems as though the world has gotten less considerate in the last few years, and I have a theory about that relating to smart phones, texting, etc., and the way portable devices isolate users from the concept of sharing spaces courteously, but theories don't do much in the day-to-day.
Two things do help me somewhat. The first is getting out of the city now and then. All the rudeness and cluelessness has a cumulative effect, at least for me, and it helps to go to my parents' house, or up to the Cape, or wherever, even for an overnight, and get away from it. You don't have to go far, or stay over; just break your routine somehow. Take a different route to work. Find a green space in the city and chill there for an hour after work — read a book, catnap on a blanket, whatever. I like to go to Floyd Bennett Field periodically and walk around or watch the remote-control-car races; it's like a reset, and it's right there in the city.
I also like to go to my hometown, where everything is shuttered and dark by 10 PM, to remind myself that the quiet suburban life is wonderful…and utterly not for me. So, just change things up a bit for a day or two.
My other trick, which is ridiculous and should not work but does for some reason, is positive affirmations of other people. I started doing it in a horrendo traffic jam on Staten Island once — cheerily waving and thumbs-upping fellow drivers who allowed me to merge; complimenting everyone else on the road on their patience and reminding them that we had to work together; informing a toadstool who cut me off that I knew he had many fine qualities and probably looked great in that shirt, and I totally did not hope he stepped in poo and then tracked it into his Escalade. Then I made up a song about the Pooscalade and sang it loudly. I know: weirdballs, but anyone who's tried to get over the Goethals on a summer Sunday feels me. Nobody could hear me, and it began as a kind of a joke — "You gained half a car length squeezing out a Smart! Well done, Inahurry O'Gasguzzler!" — and maybe that's why it works, but I had gotten so tired of actively hating other drivers and wanting to jam bees into everyone's transmissions that I had to try something else, or I was going to have a heart attack.
The hard part is that you know you shouldn't take it personally, but then you take that personally — "How can nobody be paying attention?!" Turning it around and trying to make it personal with a friendly attitude, even if it feels (and is) fake, somehow has the effect of negating those feelings that everyone in the city is actively ignoring your comfort.
Living in a city, on top of everyone else who lives there, is tough. Give yourself a day off, literally if you can — and switch up your mood with something dumb like Compulsive Waving Family: UK Edition.
So, I sit about eight feet away from a co-worker who chews gum. Big, huge hunks of sticky gum…loudly. And with a visibly open mouth, so that all the wet, slappy, spitty mouth noises (as well as the cracking and bubble-popping) float into my ears…all throughout the day (when she's not eating various snacks, like peanuts, which, oddly enough, present the same problem — minus, of course, the bubbles). Why, I don't know, as it seems more difficult to chew that way than it would be to…NOT.
This is flat-out gross. It is disgusting to listen to this smacky, moist, squishy sound all day (and gum in general — the idea of it at all — just makes me queasy). My problem is, when headphones are not an option…what then? I have found in the past that you can ask people to, say, turn down their music or even turn off a cell phone, but this is taken as an insult, as if you're insinuating that someone is devoid of manners and social skills.
I would not like this to be the case. My co-worker is otherwise awesome. We have traveled together, and have our stupid inside jokes, and can often guess what the other is thinking when a random expletive is unleashed. Yet, she's not close enough that I'd have no problem saying, "Cut that shit out!" like I would to a longtime friend. On the other hand, she is far from a stranger to whom I might (but probably not) say, "Excuse me, but could you…?" Every time I hear a crack, pop, or chew sound, I feel…rage!
How do you tell an adult to chew with her damn mouth shut without sounding like a total jerk?
"Excuse me — I'm so sorry, but the gum-popping is making it kind of hard for me to concentrate. It's just a thing I have, so…would you mind chewing silently until I'm done with [x]? Thanks so much, I really appreciate it."
You'll have to do it a few times. Eventually, you may reach a shorthand for it if she's someone you generally feel comfortable with: "Uch, effing spreadsheet. …Gum? Great, thanks."
A lot of people 1) chew the hell out of their gum, and 2) don't realize how much noise it makes (and how gross that noise is) when they do so. Start by asking occasionally that she knock it off, and if that's going okay, start asking more often (or wait for her to figure out based on when/how often you ask that it's not that awesome for her to make squirgly noises with her snack substitute).
To everyone else: if it's an otherwise quiet environment, gum stays in mouth, mouth stays closed.
Tags: city living etiquette