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Friday, October 29, 2004

Urban Walking

New York and London are quite similar as far as how people behave walking around the sidewalks, and both quite different to where I grew up. (Over here, we say "different to.") The high density of people on the sidewalks seems to lead to most pedestrians dehumanizing everyone but the people they are walking with. Whereas in the small city I lived in as a yoot, someone approaching you would meet your eyes, say "excuse me," or perhaps gesture to avoid a collision, in New York and London people are far more likely to stare at your feet and try to outguess you.

This morning I was stunned by how far people can take that attitude. A woman was walking down a passage in the underground about twenty feet ahead of me. She must have decided she was going the wrong way, because she suddenly reversed directions, so that she was walking straight back at me. Now, the passageway was quite wide, and there was plenty of room for her to go around me.

Of course, I could have moved aside also, but my thinking was that, if I was walking down an exit passage in the wrong direction (which she now was), and if I had suddenly changed course, I would try to be accomodating toward the other pedestrians who were going the right way and who were not pirouetting about. Out of curiosity, I stood still, waiting to see what she would do. She was still fifteen feet away, so she had plenty of time to notice someone, not moving, lying ahead of her on the course she had set. But she simply kept walking until she was about three feet away from my chest, stopped, and glared at me. She was apparently prepared to do so for as long as I stood there. Damn it all, she was walking straight back to the platform, come what may. Since I was meeting someone, I stepped aside after a few seconds.

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