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Comparative culture

Encountering pedestrians in Holland and Ireland

Kilkenny, early 21st century —

Following and pacing in the Netherlands...

Back in Ireland, now, I remember by comparison what happens in Holland when you walk against the general flow of foot-traffic.

In Holland, you have to "stake a claim" to your trajectory. Often this requires pretending that you don't see the person who's walking toward you. This may not be intentional, and you may not even be aware of it. But if you don't do it, you'll be walking all over the place. Once you start dodging aside that spare little bit to anticipate the oncoming pedestrian, you will be making way for everybody. It won't stop — others will see you coming and you, not they, will be making allowance. It will make you crazy and irritable.

But if you "don't see them," they will see you, pretending otherwise or not; and they will at least compromise — they will notice that there is somebody on the sidewalk coming in their direction. And they know, as you know of them, that you are not going to step aside. Then, as if by magic — as if by social code — you both alter trajectory just a fraction of a degree, according to who "sees" whom the most, and to whichever side of each other you are approaching... and you don't collide.

It doesn't work that way in Ireland. Well, it doesn't really work that way anywhere else that I've been. But in Ireland, it really does not work. You will bump into people.