I just realized I’ve now lived about half my life in Wisconsin. I still feel like a transplanted Californian. Real midwesterners don’t enjoy snow. It just isn’t done.
The craziest thing about the midwest is (with one big exception) how stinking polite everyone is. No, not exactly polite–more like deferential. You can’t go out in public here without being asked, “Am I in your way?” and “I’m sorry, did you want to use this?” and just plain “I’m sorry!”
I understand this, some of the time. If I, say, get to the squat rack at the exact same time as someone else, it makes sense for the two of us to figure out who’s going to use it first. But if I took off my plates and walked away five minutes ago, you really don’t need to ask my permission to use it.
On Saturday, I was waiting for the druggist to pack up my levothroid at the Community Pharmacy, so I wandered over to look at the books. Only I couldn’t look at anything without this nervous-looking guy jumping out of the way. He was trying to read a magazine, only he was too busy jumping out of my line of vision to have possibly been paying any attention to what he was reading. Finally he blurted out, “Am I in your way?”
I said, “No, you’re not in my way. You are a human being. You have a right to take up space.” His nervousness was making me nervous, but I didn’t want to make him feel worse, so I toned it down. “You’re fine. I’m just killing time waiting for a prescription anyway.”
The worst part is, even though their intent is to be polite, people who do this make me feel like I’m in their way. I mean, say I’m walking down the sidewalk and another person is walking the other way, and when our paths meet, the other person makes a show of cringing off to the side and saying “Sorry, excuse me.” It’s not like I really take up the whole width of the sidewalk, or even half of it; we can share. But in acting like he expects me to want the whole sidewalk, my co-walker makes me think he really wants it. It’s like we’re all walking around wearing fat suits of unseen personal space.
The one exception is, all bets are off when it comes to driving. Some midwesterners drive the same way they act around people when they’re not driving–like they should have a second horn just to say “Excuse me!” But then there are the ones who use driving time to vent their frustrations. Brrrrrr. Dr. Jeckyl in the parking lot, Mr. Hyde behind the wheel.