I’m not an aggressive person. I’m also pretty petite in size. My husband claims that I’m “scrappy”, which basically means that I could probably slap, scratch, kick and squirm my way out of a situation if my adrenaline was going strong. However, it’s pretty safe to say, I’ll never win an arm-wrestling match.
I’m also usually a very giving person. I don’t mind letting a car in front of me (who cares if I get bumped back a spot), I wait in lines (no cutting), I let the elderly put their heavy bag on the conveyor before me (poor lady/man must be so tired). There have even been times that I let someone take my place in line at the grocery store because they have three items and I have a full shopping cart (no please, after you).
That was me, that is, until I moved to a new country and realized I was not fitting in.
The first time my passive attitude got the best of me was when I was waiting for the next available stall in a public restroom. A girl then entered the restroom after me, walked right past me, and stood by another stall. That stall just so happened to open and she went right in. What?? I was next. Didn’t she see me standing here??
While I was caught up in my thoughts, more women started to fill the restroom, each taking a spot in front of a stall door. Oh, I see how this is going to be…
I took my position in front of a door and glared in my peripheral at my competitors standing next to me, Clint Eastwood-style. As soon as the door in front of me opened, I was already making my way in before the lady had time to completely exit. Push. Shove. Close the door. Lock it. Victory! Funny thing is, she didn’t seem to care that I was all up in her business.
My next memorable experience was at the airport, at the security checkpoint where you have to load your bags onto the conveyor. Everyone seemed to be cool, calm and collected…until we all got to that conveyor belt. People were throwing their bags in front of mine and pushing right past me through the metal detector. I was continually losing my spot on the conveyor belt. Alright, no more miss nice foreigner. I stuck my elbows out, widened my stance, moved someone’s bag out of the way and shoved my bag onto the conveyor belt. Then, keeping my elbows out, I braced myself as another man tried to get in front of me. Ohhh no, no, no. Not today! Cue pushing and shoving. After making my way through the metal detector, brushing my disheveled hair back into place, and retrieving my bag, I noticed that everyone had returned to their calm demeanor. No harm done. No feelings hurt.
Now, let’s move on to the elevator. Ohh, the elevator. Usually an elevator with more than eight people inside is an elevator I don’t enter. Not enough room, I once thought to myself. But then I realized, I will be waiting for 30 minutes before an elevator opens with less than eight people inside. What’s a girl with a baby stroller to do? You guessed it, push and shove. Now, lest you think I’ve thrown my manners out the window, I should inform you that I still politely say “excuse me” and I apologize if I roll over people’s toes with my child’s stroller. But don’t be fooled, I will make room where there appears to be no room on this elevator simply because I know everyone else would do the same thing if they were in my situation.
Though I could continue on with one example after another that involved me having to push and shove, I’ll leave you with one final example: exiting the airplane. I’ll assume most of you reading have been on an airplane and know about the little seatbelt light. When lit, you should remain in your seat for the time being. This could be because the airplane is currently taking off or maybe because of turbulence or possibly because the plane has not yet rolled to a complete stop at your arrival gate. I was always accustomed to sitting in my seat patiently, even when the plane was completely stopped, waiting for that light to turn off. Long gone are those days. The new normal: as soon as passengers feel the plane rolling to a stop, they are all in the aisles. Everybody. There’s no waiting in your seat until a few people get their bags and then scooting your way into the aisle next, like a well-designed assembly line. It’s survival of the fittest. Pushing and shoving at its finest. There was even one time, as I stood waiting in the aisle, I could have let my legs give way beneath me but I wouldn’t have fallen because I was sandwiched between three people (thanks to one person squeezing their way right next to me in the tiny aisle) and an aisle seat. I couldn’t have moved even if I wanted to.
Side note: I would be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to share one of my favorite skits by the comedian, Brian Regan, since it relates to airline and flight humor. It’s just under 8 minutes but you can skip ahead to 5:20 if you want to have a good laugh about the whole “push and shove” tactic.
I had a hard time adjusting to this “push and shove” method for quite some time, but then I realized that I was the only one bothered by it. No one so much as blinks an eye when you take hold of an opportunity–free space, empty seat, gap in the line–when you see it’s available. “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
Your turn! What is something that surprised you when you first moved to your country but now you’ve grown accustomed to? Have you adopted any cultural norms as your own?