Neighborhood kids

Last night Dave was telling me a story about a "discussion" he had with his neighbors. Seems Palmer was riding a scooter, and ran into their two and a half year old son. The neighbors claimed Palmer did it on purpose, and had done it several times this week. Dave did not take kindly to this suggestion.

Dave lives in an apartment complex with a central courtyard, built in the 70s when I think architects were trying to create spaces of community within their plans. Like the town I grew up in, Mission Viejo, which was a Master Planned Community meant to encourage walking and socializing and neighborhood.

Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of the architects and urban planners, California and the United States are too populous, too dictated by capitalistic ideas of "choice", too accustomed to the nuclear family, and too organized around their workplace culture to really put all that much effort into getting along with or getting to know their neighbors. It is not, by any means, necessary to do so. If you have a conflict with a neighbor, you can very, very easily just ignore them and find someone else to socialize with who fits in better with your own ideas.

So I was telling Dave about a book I had read to Palmer when he was here in Iceland. It was actually a school text book meant to teach the sounds of the alphabet, but told as a story of Atli and Anna's first year in school. Palmer really loved it. And I was telling Dave that one part of the story really surprised me. It was the part where the book said that Atli and Anna had lots of friends, who they played with and fought with and cried with and got mad at and then made up with.

That was how Dave thought it should be, that Palmer and this little boy should be given a chance to work things out without the parents immediately rushing in. That was how it was for him in Georgia growing up. And I told him that is how it is here in Iceland.

But I have to say one of the benefits of the American system is the sort of optimistic idealism it carries with it about human nature. If you have a neighbor who is unpleasant, that person is depicted as the rarity. By exercising "consumer choice" you can find a better product. Thus the idea is that there is a huge supply of really decent people who fit perfectly into your world-view, and you just have to be a diligent shopper to find them.

When I moved here to Iceland, I carried this idea with me. I was pretty sure people would recognize me as one of those really decent people products that they would be glad to put on their shelf.

Instead I think, in fact I know, that Icelanders have rather a different idea of human nature. They do not kid themselves that anyone is perfect. They do not kid themselves that defect is rare. The sagas attest to this, to the keen eye Icelanders have had for generations of the vagrancies that make human beings human. They expect, right from the get-go, that I have flaws, and they are careful around me until they figure out what my exact set of flaws (and strengths) are.

If they had grown up with me on the playground, like Anna and Atli and their friends did, they would already know this about me. But they did not. So I have learned not to take it so personally, if so and so colleague or interesting woman whom I'd like to be friends with does not reciprocate.

I figure in time, they'll get a feel for exactly how I play on the jungle gym.


Valur said…
You've struck me as a very open person. Very american in that way.

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