28 January 2015

Offending strangers, Czech style

I was riding the bus a few months ago and a middle-aged man got on. He was moving a bit slowly and clearly favouring one of his legs. The bus pulled away from the stop and the next stop was announced. A woman noticed that he was standing awkwardly and offered him her seat.

'What? Am I such an idiot? I just got on,' the man barked (in Czech).
'Do you think I am so selfish I would sit in my seat when perhaps you need it?' she barked back.

And then, to get all Buzzfeedy about it, something interesting happened.

'Oh,' the man laughed, 'You wanted to give me your seat? I thought you asked if I wanted the next stop. I am stupid.'

The woman laughed too and said something about how she was getting off soon anyway and they chatted amiably until she got off.

I found the whole interaction fascinating, and I am sure that there is a clue in there about Czech norms.

I can't imagine the interaction going the same way in either the US or the UK. Such effrontery at the beginning, followed so quickly by so much good will and humour? Strange.

If I were in the place of the woman in that interaction, my cultural training would have me quietly, ragingly offended for the rest of the bus ride. My instinct when confronted with angry strangers is to be unfailing polite and (to my internal shame) often excessively good humoured. I've had far too many encounters with shopkeepers and government officials where I notice midway through I'm smiling nervously and nodding apologetically.

More swagger is definitely required for living in the Czech Republic. 

No comments:

Post a Comment