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    The Persuader

    My personal blog, started in 2006.



    « | »

    13.02.2011

    Be vigilant and don’t look

    This most recent trip to Auckland was marked by plenty of drama. The first experience was getting a virus the second I hooked up to the internet. The second was, having accidentally bumped the light into beam in my rent-a-Falcon on Ponsonby Road, a very interesting gentleman in a Toyota Picnic in the next lane flipped the bird, shouted, ‘You f***ing idiot, you’ve got your f***ing beam on,’ and proceeded to swerve his car into mine, then cut me off in my lane, before running a red light. The dude was angry. Running red lights seems to be commonplace there, having witnessed an average of one incident per diem, and once again, I seemed to receive confirmation that the page on intersection block is missing from the Auckland edition of the Road Code. (This last one has haunted me for years: every time I leave the gap in the intersection, my Auckland passengers consistently say, ‘I can tell you’re not from here.’)
       I know the strange motoring habits of Auckland I report are isolated examples as I have not really seen too much of this extreme behaviour on my previous trips. There are some oddities such as the inefficient motorway, where no lane is the quickest one, or the fact that travelling at 10 km/h above the speed limit is de rigueur, but then, you find quirks here in Wellington with our one-way system and less than clever signposting (which has, in our defence, improved).
       The reason I make these remarks is a concern where it will all lead. An Auckland friend, who was a witness to the Toyota Picnic’s driver’s extreme sense of drama (I wonder: what more does he do when something bad actually happens?), once said to me that he was surprised that in Wellington, a person spotting a friend on the opposite side of the road would shout out to him.
       Apparently, this does not happen in Auckland.
       So if the everyday gesture of friendship in society is now deemed inappropriate in our largest city, what is next? Could it be this?

    London Underground, no eye contact

       These signs were not around last time I visited London, and I had to head to Duck Duck Go to search whether it was just a joke. A few people have reported them, so either they are connected by prima facie unrelated individuals who are coordinating a clever marketing campaign, or they are genuine.
       If genuine, then this is a sign that civilization has left Great Britain faster than the gold reserves under Gordon Brown’s watch.
       I’ve made eye contact with strangers before on the Tube in a friendly fashion, given up my seat for ladies and insisted they take it (they usually react as though it is a prank), and joked with friends and noticed Londoners chuckle at our conversation.
       (Female New Yorkers, incidentally, are still flattered that a gentleman gives up his seat on the Subway, and the elderly are always grateful. In Paris, meanwhile, giving up your seat to the elderly is expected, as well as to members of the armed forces.)
       The latest Underground sign makes me wonder if London has descended into the world of Harry Brown, where making eye contact with someone will lead to a fight. I suspect such signs have been put up after incidents of eye contact leading to violence. And that means the most basic aspect of human civilization—the ability to refrain—is now lost on an increasing number of citizens in the occident.
       It seems to run counter to the expectation that people stay vigilant, on the look-out for suspected terrorists, after years of the Troubles and, more recently, July 7, 2005. If you don’t look, how do you know?
       ‘I’m sorry, guv, I never got a look at his face. I can tell you he was wearing Doc Martens. Shoes with Martin Clunes’s image transferred on to them.’
       I think it’s a cautionary warning that if we don’t teach our own lot to get some perspective on life—a high beam on a car is not the end of the world, Mr Picnic—we’re looking at cities that are going to reflect the lack of civility that this sign suggests.
       What an appalling advertisement for modern Britain, undoing anything that the Tourist Authority might wish to do. It’s as bad as Britain’s apartheid policy.


    Filed under: culture, France, New Zealand, UK—Jack Yan @ 09.45

    6 Responses to ‘Be vigilant and don’t look’

    1. Rachel says:

      It is funny how glances and silly car mishaps can really irk people. It seems like modern society really under values human interaction and connectedness. As a native New Yorker, people would look at you in a funny way if you randomly start a conversation. And God forbid if you give up your seat for the wrong old lady! She will rip your head off! But I am happy to say that there is still a lot of people who value each other and are not hostile. Besides for that sign, how do you feel Londoners are like?

    2. Jack Yan says:

      Hi Rachel: I am happy to say that the elderly New Yorkers have been OK with my giving up my seat! These are, as you know, isolated examples; generally people are still decent, but we should be cautious that things don’t descend into nastiness.
         I never feel at home in London, I have to admit. It’s always friendlier in Paris, Berlin or Stockholm, based on my experience.

    3. Rachel says:

      Oh that’s cool then. Yes, most are surprised and happy with courtesy it is just the rare few. =P That is interesting that you feel more at home in Paris because I hear opposing view points. I have friends who love London but did not care for Paris but then… there are the Parisian-files/ Franco-files… Forgot the name for them. They love everything French!

    4. [...] fellow passengers or sustain eye beyond 2 seconds. Please respect urban solitude’  (via Jack [...]

    5. Irony? says:

      http://www.thepoke.co.uk/2012/03/05/guerillas-on-the-london-underground/ read this, don’t be daft, of course it’s guerilla marketing …

    6. Billy says:

      Actually it’s a sample of our national sense of humour.

      No marketing, just an astute cultural observation presented in subversive sarcasm.

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