DAILY BRIEFING
Elbow Room

May 20 - Denmark is a lovely nation and Danes are people. I almost wrote that Danes are lovely people, but there's no way in hell I can lump 5 million people together with adjectives any narrower than "human" or "bipedal."

If there's one thing that's beginning to get on my nerves about the Danes, however, it's their absolute lack of respect for personal space. This isn't some weird pet peeve of my own; it's something I hear echoed by foreigners from all over the world.

Danes have no respect for the sovereignty of the individual. They will bump into you, step on your toes, run their shopping carts over your feet, elbow your ribs on the bus, half-trample you getting in or out of the train, and inflict a thousand other little indignities upon you without so much as begging your pardon. It's not just how they treat foreigners: it's how they treat each other. They are a nation of jostler, bumpers, shovers, pushers, brush-asiders, and there isn't an "excuse me" to be had from the lot of them.

I'm a big guy. Six-foot-four, 210 pounds, and still holding on to some fine muscle tone. While Danes are not a small people, I could easily steamroll my way around their country unapologetically and claim I'd gone native. I could make mighty short work of most of the lines in which I wait so patiently; could get through the supermarket much more quickly if I weren't trying so godawfully hard not to jostle my fellow shoppers; could get in and out of the Metro with ease if I were only as willing as the average Dane to convert to a linebacker mentality the minute those automatic doors slid open. And sometimes I am profoundly tempted to do so.

The thing is, though, I still don't think I'd be able to stop myself from issuing a stream of pardon-me's, excuse-me's, and sorry's in my wake. I'm that conditioned.

I realize this is a cultural difference. It's not that the Danes are rude, it's just that they apparently don't see any arm in knocking you and your groceries off balance as they go careening by you (and half through you) on their way to more important things. Far from feeling bad, they actually make fun of other cultures—American and British in particular—for our obsessive begging of pardons and excuses.

"You're over-apologizers," one Dane told me once. "I mean, when you bump into somebody, are you really sorry? Do you actually need their pardon?"

Of course it all breaks down in logical analysis. It's strictly a question of conditioning. I'm not dissing the Danes; I'm just observing a facet of their culture that I find really, really, really fucking annoying.

Really what I'm doing is letting off steam—and a certain young man I encountered at Føtex yesterday has no idea how lucky he is that I let off my steam in textual form.

* * *

One of those old "School-House Rock" cartoons converted the notion of Manifest Destiny (Americans' westward expansion) into a historical yearning for elbow room. The Danes have been stuck here on their islands and peninsulas ever since the final days of Viking expansion many centuries ago. Maybe they've just got used to not having any elbow room.

Dagens Ord

The word of the day is opførsel, meaning manners.

Historical Observations

It was 48 years ago today (1956) that the first hydrogen bomb to be dropped from the air was exploded over the Bikini Atoll in the Pacific, but it was a much earlier (July 1, 1946), non-aerial atomic detonation that originally inspired the bikini swimsuit.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, $90 million has been appropriated by Congress "to be used by the Bikinians to clean up their atoll" since 1990. How embarrassing must it have been for the guy who had to call the Bikinians and tell them we had soiled their atoll—that we wanted to help them clean their filthy atoll?

(Which isn't to say it'd be a cakewalk being called a Bikinian.)

* * *

The Chinese government imposed martial law on Beijing on this date in 1989, in response to student-led protests that had brought millions of people onto the streets. The demonstrations continued, however, until the brutal military crackdown on June 3 and 4 in Tiananmen Square, in which thousands of Chinese dissidents were killed by the Chinese military. In a June 9 speech, Deng Xiaoping announced that the government had suppressed a "counterrevolutionary rebellion" in which the "dregs of society" had tried to "establish a bourgeois republic entirely dependent on the West."

China still has a veto on the U.N. Security Council.

On this date in 1991, the Soviet parliament sort of approved a law that would allow citizens to travel abroad freely. They approved it "in principle," which is why I say they only "sort of" approved it. But they were on to something: by December 26 of that year, there wasn't a single Soviet citizen left in the country.

On May 20, 1867, Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone of the Royal Albert Hall. And they call her the virgin queen?

Holidays, Birthdays

Cher turns 58 today. She shares her birthday with Joe Cocker (1944), George Gobel (1919), and Jimmy Stewart (1908).

Today is Constitution Reform Day in Cameroon, Independence Day in Cuba, and Flag Day in Sudan.

Happy Thursday!

© 2004, The Moron's Almanac™

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