Yesterday I had perhaps my first serious rudeness incident in Sweden. I was shocked. People in Sweden generally are not rude in the sense that they avoid conflict and confrontation. But when they are rude they are awkwardly rude like that woman yesterday.
I am not good at responding to rude strangers, I always seem to be ill prepared. I am so dumbfounded when someone acts like an ass and very often I take too much time to digest what just happened. (In many ways I am a Swede) By the time I am mentally prepared to put together a response the incident has passed.
So I am in a coffee shop with my baby and I am waiting for two women to leave a table, the only available sofa in the place. I stand right next to their sofas as they slowly put their jackets on. I try not to block their way out and allow them space to walk out before I move the baby trolley there. It is obvious to everyone around that I am waiting to sit down. Suddenly a woman holding a tray walks in out of nowhere, completely bypassing me and places her tray on the table before the women are done leaving. I look at her intensely and she then pretends to see me for the first time. She looks at me feigning amazement, as if I just landed from space. I notice that she is in her late 40’s too and pulling such an act is beyond ridiculous. She wins and I and baby take off.
I am speechless: This is the first serious rudeness incident in Sweden. I mean here and there I have witnessed minor stuff, like people pushing or bumping into you on the metro and not apologizing. But nothing over the top that will make you think what the hell?
So that made me think of the rudest things I have witnessed in places I have lived.
Greece is by far the rudest place, with numerous incidents in the last few years that I can recall. We Greeks can be the kindest people ever towards friends and family but when it comes to strangers show little to no solidarity. Back home we are still working on basic rules like “let the passengers out first” at the metro or that a group of three people does not really need six chairs at a restaurant to sit their bags when others are standing. To be fair, there has always been some kind of invisible threat lurking in the Greek public life, a certain lack of security and trust. Try letting the passengers out first, and the bus might leave without you, is one example. But still this is not an excuse for every act of rudeness.
So here is a short list of the worst, rudest things I can recall in different places I have lived or visited:
Greece: I was sleeping on a bench of a cruise ship on my way back to Athens from a Greek island when an old woman who just boarded the ship from the holy island of Tinos smacked me to wake me up so she could sit on the bench with me. Yes that’s right, she smacked me. And that was the typical dressed in black, golden cross wearing, pious yia-yia (granny), the backbone of the Greek society. An old lady, one of the hundreds that visit the holy island of Tinos every year to pray for their beloved ones. What an original way to end a religious quest.
China: In China people can be rude towards waiguo ren (foreigners). Consciously or subconsciously- I am not sure if they always realize it. One of the topics many Chinese love to pry into is money. Back when I was a student in Beijing there was the impression among many Chinese that all foreigners are rich and somewhat spoilt. How much do you earn, how much do your clothes cost and if they cost that much where did you find the money to buy these things? I remember one day I was harassed by a horrible language teacher who wanted to know at all costs where did I find the money to take her class.
France: I am at the top of the world, sitting at a lovely Parisian restaurant with tears in my eyes. My boyfriend has just asked me to marry him and has given me the most beautiful diamond ring. I want to scream to the whole world that I am engaged and share my happiness with strangers. But everyone is so quiet in there, they speak in that low unwelcoming private voice… The loud American that was sitting behind me and made friends with everyone has unfortunately left, I am sure he would respond to my happiness if he were still there. Wrong timing, the cold eyed waitress is approaching with the dessert. Her eyes land on my ring and then meet mine. “I am engaged!” I tell her filled with emotion. Staring at my ring she gives me the dirtiest look a waiter has ever given me and only exclaims “Oh” before she turns her back to walk away. (On that occasion she failed to ruin my evening, and she even got an undeserving tip).
UK: I leave UK last. The reason is I do not remember anything too hurtful happening in the UK and if there was something it was not by British people. An event that comes in mind is a British guy I had never seen before grabbing my behind at a bar. I was shocked but did not confront him. A few minutes later he appeared again and apologized for the incident which happened because “he was drunk”. (You see, that is why Britons are awesome…)
Obviously now when I look back at those incidents I find them almost amusing but of course that was not the case when they happened. There is the rudeness you can respond to and there is also the passive aggressive behavior that certain people have and it is hard to prove with facts. You cannot always laugh off rude incidents. Sometimes when extreme rudeness leaves you speechless you just have to to let the caveman/cavewoman inside you take over. At the end of the day it’s healthy.
But not letting things get to you is at the end of the day the best response you can give to people’s negativity and aggressiveness.