Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Pedestrian Rage

"Earlier this year, a United Airlines flight from San Francisco to Shanghai, China, was diverted to Alaska when twin sisters were accused of interfering with the crew. One was accused of choking a flight attendant, and the other was accused of hitting two flight attendants and the plane's captain. passengers"

From CNN July 6 2001
"For many workers, in a range of jobs, income and education levels, the workplace is a hotbed of stress and hostility. According to a recent phone survey of 1,305 American employees performed by Integra Realty Resources, stress leads to physical violence in one in 10 work environments. And almost half of those surveyed said yelling and verbal abuse is common in their workplaces.

Dubbed "desk rage" by the popular media--and known to psychologists as counterproductive or deviant workplace behavior--this behavior includes acts of aggression, hostility, rudeness and physical violence. "

From CBS Monitor on Psycholgy Volume 32, No. 7 July/August 2001 (Jennifer Daw)

WalkersIn the good old days "rage" and "raging" referred to partying all night, painting the town red; in short, having a good time. Not so now.

First we had "road rage", then "air rage", "desk rage" and "office rage". And now I think we are in the midst of a "pedestrian rage" epidemic, at least in New York.

I remember when I first came to this town, nine years ago. The sidewalks were busy, people were always in a rush, and there were a few pedestrian collisions. But on the whole, pedestrians kept to the right and moved, if ever so slightly, to let oncoming pedestrians pass.

Dog walkers would pull their dog in close to them, to help one avoid tripping over the lead. People made an attempt to move out of the way, and at at least they stayed in their place in the queue (line) at subway and bus stops. When someone almost bowled you over or stepped on your foot, they'd mumble a New York style apology.

They were the good old days!

The streets of the city now seem to be dominated by a pack of belligerent, aggressive, self-obsessed creatures from Mars. Certainly not Venus. Dog owners give their pets a wide berth, and it is not uncommon to be tripped up by a retractable dog lead spanning the width of the sidewalk. I suppose we mere humans are meant to step out onto the road ("street" in Amlish) to allow the dog walker and dog to have the freedom of the streets.

And for those of you not in New York - these dogs often resemble horses. Great danes, Dobermans, huge dogs who come from a breed I've never heard of, roam the streets with their owners in tow.

But lest I appear to have it in for dogs ("he's friendly", the owners will explain when you walk around them in the narrow supermarket aisles), I must mention the dogless variety on New York walkers.

These people come in all shapes and sizes. They can often be seen in groups of three or four. Arms linked, they'll take up the whole of the sidewalk, from curb to shopfront. You have two choices when approached by such people. They will not budge. Not even an inch. You either back out of their way, or stand still. Walking towards them is too hard, as it is a natural instinct of the civilized to move aside. They won't move out of your way. So you either step out into the path of the New York traffic, or flatten yourself against a store window to let these remnants of humanity pass.

If only the aggressors were always in groups. They'd be easily recognized. But the selfish behaviour is not confined to the armed-linked brigades. A growing number of individuals walk straight ahead, oblivious to the fact that others are using the sidewalk. Old or young, they knock people out of the way.

I've seen women of eighty pushed out of the way by gymbag carrying men in their twenties. And just yesterday a woman on crutches was pushed out of the line (queue) by a businessman, who thought nothing of it.

This pushing and shoving is exacerbated by the current habit of wearing earphones. Either on the cell-phone, or listening to their portable CD player, the wired-for-sound New Yorkers live in a world of their own. They can no longer receive aural cues to tell them what is going on around them. In any case, I am sure that they don't really care. The "me generation" had nothing on these people. They literally care only about themselves.

I remember when I first came here, it was easy to spot the tourist. Apart from wearing color, these people were obvious because of their slow pace of walking and their tendency to suddenly come to a halt to examine their travel guide. Fifth Avenue was a place to be avoided between Thanksgiving and Christmas. There were tourists everywhere, sidewalks chockablock.

In 2001, the tourists are a blessing. Coming from more gentile states and countries, they walk the streets in the belief that their fellow man should be considered. I have no idea what they must think of the new breed of New York pedestrians.

As for me, I intend to make the tourist spots my walking destinations. After all, there is safety in numbers, and I intend to mingle with human beings.

Your Questions and Comments

Nick emailed: Hi, I am an American and have been reading your columns and I completely agree with what you said in your patriot article. I am quite often embarrassed I from the U.S., I once was talking to someone in Ohio who didn't know if the Pacific Ocean was west of the U.S. or east. What is even more embarrassing is the fact that I am from the Midwest, so I naturally am perceived as a fat slob who knows nothing of the world. I apologize for the ignorance and self-righteousness of Americans - I sympathize with you. Good luck showing people where Africa is, and remember, most people here are under the notion that Africa is a country and not a continent - so there is another one for you. -Nick, Michigan

Thanks, Nick. Yes, I can imagine that Africa is thought of as a country. I'll check that one out. And thanks for your positive comments.

Lean emailed: I was in New York earlier this year visiting friends and I am probably going back early next year.

Where can I buy vegemite in Manhattan? I really missed my morning vegemite on toast.

I found being in New York a lot of fun, though unusual. I got the distinct impression that there are not many Australians there. I was identified as English, Irish and even Scottish because of my accent.

My major problem was getting waiters to understand what I meant when I asked for a "Coke". Very very frustrating. I also almost got into a fight on the subway because I looked at somebody. When I got home to SYdney I found it a relief to be able to look at people on public transport again.

Anyway, enough of my gabbing. If you can help with the Vegemite that would be much appreciated. Really enjoy the columns.

Lean, I can't really help you. I used to know a place but am not sure if it is still stocked there. Best to bring some over with you, but I'll keep a watch out for it.

Angela emailed: I'm an avid reader of the Australians Abroad website and enjoy all of the different columns written from around the world. I especially like yours as I live close to New York City. I draw your attention to the recent article 'Letter from a Patriot: 'Missile from Millicent'. This part of the 'missile' I found particularly amusing as it supposedly highlighted our lack of grammatical prowess. Here is the offending example.

"In fact, I think you need to go back to school to learn proper grammar or at leasd proof read your articles before you post them for the world to sea."
Yes, I was amused by that - and you are the only one who picked it up!

Meredith emailed: just letting you know I'm with you, couldn't agree more with your article, and if so many trusting, friendly and open-minded Aussies independently come to the same conclusion (I was actually expecting a lot better when I originally came to the US, so could hardly be accused of being biased from the start!) there has to be some truth in our observations - we seem to agree with the opinions & experiences of people from a lot of other countries, too!

Millicent's confidence about the US being the "best" country in the world seems a little misplaced when you look at the objective facts, and Australia being the "worst" isn't even worth refuting - the UN has ranked Australia no. 2 in the world for quality of life (USA is 6th) after Norway, and no.2 in the world after Japan (USA is 26th) for longevity! Also, Millicent didn't "proofread" either - she spelt "see" as "sea"!

Anyway, I am currently home in beautiful sunny Canberra for a visit, and I am personally convinced more than ever that Australia IS the best country in the world - here I have a nice tasteful solid-brick home which is affordable and well-built (not huge or ostentatious either), blue sky & sunshine every day, lovely fresh clothes dried on the Hills Hoist, trees, fresh air, affordable healthy food, SAFE power-points with SWITCHES on them, light-switches which aren't upside-down, sinks with draining-boards and a proper laundry with a tub (apparently considered rare "luxury" items in the US - they don't even seem to know you can get automatic electric kettles!), energy-efficient & well-designed, affordable Italian kitchen appliances - and happy, healthy-looking, relaxed & smiling people dressed in nice normal clothes & not either daggy, weird or seduction outfits! Hope that when we come home to live, we never lose our appreciation for how incredibly lucky we were to have been born in Australia! All the best, Kate.

"In fact, I think you need to go back to school to learn proper grammar or at leasd proof read your articles before you post them for the world to sea."
Well, the second person to pick up Millicent's typos! As for electric kettles, it is the low wattage here that is the problem. Even if you get one, it takes forever to boil! Have fun in OZ. I am jealous!