sun 12 aug 2007 16:21:28 raamgracht
how to walk
"for having traffic with thyself alone, thou of thyself thy sweet self dost deceive." -- shakespeare sonnet 4
and as i was walking home with my groceries for the week, i realized i need to write a book or a movie called "how to walk". for all those people who don't seem to know how to physically navigate civilization.
of course jodenbreestraat is a crowded area, especially in summertime, it's got the rembrandt museum and waterloo plein and some kind of diamond factory nearby that tourists are told to visit whether they like it or not.
i do have patience for truly confused tourists. i have a bit less patience for those people who are "browsing" the narrow sidewalks of amsterdam two or three abreast -- as if sightseeing or windowshopping are the only things going on here. some people are just trying to get to work, or to a dinner appointment, or home with their groceries.
i dunno how i was raised this way, but when i have reason to move slowly on a busy narrow street, i usually try to cleave to one side and leave an imaginary "passing lane" for everybody else. it's just about being aware of the flow. and if i'm trying to cross the grain, i also tend naturally to yield the right of way to those moving *with* the direction of the street.
so when i encounter people who step blindly out of a shop doorway and amble diagonally across a sidewalk without even looking? then i am amazed and i wonder where they came from, what kind of mother did they have! and yet i cannot remember my mom ever literally "teaching" me how to walk in society. do people need walking lessons?
in general, it seems to me that pedestrians nowadays haven't got much sense of foot-traffic right of way. sometimes they even seem to *play* walking as a sport, as in, who's gonna win this dominate-the-sidewalk contest.
i think most everybody agrees that it is downright rude to get off the end of an escalator and just mosey along, or to step out of a tram, bus or metro car and stand there dead still, wondering which way to turn. we are supposed to know that this is traffic, and that everyone is supposed to collaborate to make the flow happen. but do we need to be reminded?
because i was raised that way, i guess i assume that's how people are raised. but maybe not. i wish i knew. i wish i knew why people today seem to have become more antisocial and selfish about personal movement in society, why we have fallen unconscious of the fact that *we are in traffic here*. is it because we spend so much time isolated in cars or living rooms that we are forgetting how to move urbanly?
what is up with that? i know it's one of my pet peeves, but i've also talked to others about it -- including some lifelong amsterdammers -- and i'm not the only one who notices that the people have changed. most everybody i talk to agrees there is something weird going on. it's as if people all over the world are being encouraged to be antisocial, because being social is no longer hip. i dunno.
i wonder if anybody has written anything enlightening about social walking, from a behavioral science perspective. i'm a dedicated lifelong pedestrian, so i'm interested in these things.