Icelanders Invade Your Personal Space - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Icelanders Invade Your Personal Space

Icelanders Invade Your Personal Space

Published May 24, 2012

While waiting for a friend at the Keflavík airport I experienced a classic demonstration of Icelandic behaviour. The arrivals space at the lovely ‘Kef’ is now fairly typical of the genre, if somewhat smaller: there’s a large sliding door where the arriving passengers emerge, squinting and scanning the crowd for their loved ones. The open space where said loved ones wait would probably hold around five hundred people rock-concert style, or comfortably around fifty Japanese or English people if their personal space rules were not infringed.
I got there very early and stood somewhere just off-centre in the open space. There were five or ten other people there—most of them lingering towards the front, a few at the front corners and the remainder randomly scattered. So there I stood, patiently waiting and doing what any good nerd does these days: checking my Twitter feeds and reading The Guardian on my smartphone. All in the world was good. My plan to get there early and chill out was working just fine.
As time went on, people started to fill the space, until most of it was occupied and there were obvious walkways between the human obstructions.
Then the inevitable happened: people starting using the walkway directly in front of me and I was being treated as the human equivalent of a wall: something to graze against or to bump. I was standing, as you’d expect someone to stand, using a smartphone: holding the phone around sternum level with one hand, whilst gently caressing it er, sorry, scrolling with the other hand. This meant that the phone was sticking out maybe ten centimetres from my body.
Clearly Too Much For Siggi
This was clearly too much for Siggi and his pals to handle. As they were walking past me, my finely-tuned proximity alarms were going off like mad and warning me of impending collisions, of people walking straight at me and that if I didn’t get out of the way a collision would happen.
A couple of years living in London taught me the gentle give-and-take dance that the people in cities in real countries develop, that Brownian motion of being in close proximity whilst not invading other people’s space. However, I decided to carry out a small experiment to see what would happen if I fought the Brownian motion instinct and just stood my ground.
Well, the bumping got worse. The people coming past me were walking straight through the space occupied by my phone. They were clipping it with their arms and nearly knocking it out of my hand. I found I had to hold it tightly for fear that I would actually lose grip.
Then a glorious thing happened. The actions of one man demonstrated so clearly the collective instinct of Icelanders when it comes to thoughtfulness, consideration for other people and social awareness.
‘Ah-ROO-GAA! Ah-ROOOOO-GAA!!!
This man, who was wearing worn-out sports clothing, scruffy black sneakers, a cheap gold necklace and unwashed hair, stood directly in front of me, with his woman at his side. The distance from the front edge of my phone to the centre of his back was round ten centimetres (See diagram 3).
So not only was Captain Cretin completely blocking my view, he was also seriously invading my personal space. He’d obviously planted himself there because he wanted a clear view of the arriving travellers and it didn’t even occur to him that he might have been blocking someone’s view.
The proximity alarms in my head were now screaming: ‘Ah-ROO-GAA! Ah-ROOOOO-GAA!!!’
But, no. I stubbornly stayed where I was and made the sacrifice of my comfort for the sake of social science. I decided it would be interesting to see what Captain Cretin would do next.
He surpassed himself. He was so keen to get a good look at the arriving people that he was bobbing and weaving a lot to get a better view. A quick glance confirmed why he needed to do this: yet another peasant farmer had planted himself right in front and blocked his view.
In the course of his bobbing he actually backed into me. Several times.
Perfectly Normal Behaviour
In a country where social history is measured in units larger than nanoseconds this offense would have prompted gushing apologies and made him realise that he was standing way too close to me. But, no. Our superhero did nothing whatsoever. It clearly didn’t even register with him and that’s the interesting point: he saw nothing wrong whatsoever with what he was doing. To him it was perfectly normal behaviour.
He wasn’t trying to be rude, boorish or ignorant; he was just standing there, waiting for someone. If he’d wanted to be rude, he would have done something rude by his standards: he would have pulled out a handkerchief, loudly blown his nose, examined the product and put the handkerchief back in his pocket.
An unusual event? No. I’ve lived here long enough to know that this is typical behaviour, not just for white trash and didn’t-learn-it-in-school seventy year old taxi drivers, but typical behaviour even for apparently civilised people in business suits. 
‘Cod Wars’ is nobody’s real name! Nope. Cod Wars is a pseudonym for whatever Englishman wrote this (he won’t give up his real name for fear of being chased around by angry Icelanders). Read more of his writing at www.thecodwars.blogspot.com, where he keeps his personal space.

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