Monday, June 23, 2008

It Makes for a Different Kind of Rush Hour

The Danes are a very civilized, orderly group - the kind of people who wait patiently for the crosswalk man to turn green, even in the absence of imminent traffic. As I was hurrying to a meeting one quiet Sunday morning, I came to an intersection. Two friends were meeting up, one on either side of the road. The pedestrian signal was red, but looking left, right, up, down, and sideways, I saw neither cars nor bicycles in any direction and so proceeded to blow through the light. The woman next to me started to follow my example until her friend across the street started waving her arms and yelling at her to get back on the sidewalk, frantic over the consequences of breaking the law.

As far as I could tell, only two exceptions to this orderliness exist. Put Danes in a line and all hell breaks loose, blond hair flying as people push, jostle, and shove their way to the front. Sure, one can understand the abandonment of decorum at the prospect of acquiring danishes or stroopwafelen, but chaos ensues in any queuing activity, not just the pastry line As I tried to get on the metro for the first time, my feet were stomped by sensible and well-made shoes attached to a crush of stampeding teutonic types. I'd steeled myself for a train jam-packed with people vying for a position, but once we got through the embarking process, the train was relatively empty and order resumed as the Danes took their seats and spoke using tempered, inside voices.

It seems that most Danes avoid the horror of having to form a line to get on public transit by biking. According to my guidebook, more than half the city's inhabitants use biking as their primary source of transportation. With separate lanes and traffic lights, the city is the cycling commuters' paradise. But since the infrastructure has been set up so that cyclists don't need to worry about traffic, they don't extend any worries to any sort of common-sense biking habits. Wear a helmet and you'll get laughed off the road or worse, yelled at in Danish, a language hard to take seriously since it both looks and sounds like the creation of Santa's elves.

Cyclists routinely roll around the city in suits and/or stiletto heels, and from time to time, a child precariously balanced on the front handlebars (it's worth mentioning that many people had custom-made child carrying contraptions that looked like a beer cooler strapped to the front of the bike. My favorite Saturday night activity quickly became parkering myself with a wafelencone and watching cyclists under the influence fall over. From the nonplussed looks on their faces, it's just another part of cycling culture.


Blogger Matt Eckel said...

The disrespect of lines seems to be widespread in Europe. Try waiting in "line" for a ski lift in France. The exact kind of behavior you describe here ensues, only everyone has big long blades attached to their feet and are holding two metal poles that could impale a sasquatch. THAT's an experience.

12:30 PM  

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