One of the most fascinating effects of moving to a new place is that for a few days and weeks nothing is obvious and everything requires attention. The same happens when migrating into a new language, but right now I’m thinking of my interaction with physical surroundings – something Goffman would think about, if he hadn’t been so preoccupied with micro-interactions with humans. I have to admit that I am a bit of a Latourian, after all.
I grappled with this sensation a bit here, but today I want to be a legislator (or a car mechanic) instead of a poet. Here is a blunt list of the minutiae of my new, non-automatised life, quoted from my internal conversation – think of these as citations from an ongoing interview with myself which I record in my memory in lieu of a voice-recorder. In fact, you don’t need to read the list.
- How far is work? How far is home? How on earth do I cycle in the middle of the road? Ah, that’s a bike lane and everybody does it. OK then…
- When are national holidays? What happens when there is one? (one happened to be on the very next day, 3 October and I was dying to find out).
- What kind of stuff can you buy in a pharmacy? What does it mean when someone tells you that “private healthcare in Germany is very cheap”? (I did ask. It turned out that a “simple consultation costs no more than 70 Euro”. I was so shocked I almost choked on my tea).
- What time do shops close in the evening?
- How do I ask the shop assistant, well, anything?
- Are bags free in the supermarket?
- How cold does it get in the evenings?
- What does the S-Bahn ticket say – I mean, I understand the words, but somehow the meaning doesn’t quite make sense. Can I really take any type of transport within 2 hours? Let me read the instructions again…
- Which way is the exit from the metro? Yes, I see the arrow. But it is ambiguous. Everything is ambiguous. I feel stupid and slow.
- How many bikers are likely to overtake me on the bike lane at 8 pm on a weekday? How fast and how impatiently are they likely to be? Will they honk or will they just whizz past?
- How much pressure do I need to apply on the bike lock in order to lock or unlock it?
- The key in the front gate doesn’t turn. A moment of panic as I turn it again and again in the dark, my hands full of shopping bags and a bike.
- I’m in. How long do I have before the light in the staircase goes off?
- Ah, the light has now really gone off and I’m already up the stairs. How many steps are there between floor 1 and 2? How high is each steps? Where is the banister?
- Where are the light switches located?
- Is this thing my fingers have just found on the wall in the dark the light switch or the neighbour’s doorbell?
- Which of the two keylocks should I unlock first, the top or the bottom one? Which way to turn the key? And which of the two round keys belongs to which lock?
- How fast will the water evaporate from the pot with boiling potatoes on this cooker?
- In which drawer are the tea spoons?
- When I get up at night, do I turn left or right to get to the kitchen?
T. Wheatley and D. M. Wegner (2001) Automaticity of Action, Psychology of (online pdf, very informative entry in the International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences)
Russell J ed. 1997 Autism as an Executie Disorder. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK
Bargh J A 1994 The four horsemen of automaticity: Awareness, intention, eﬃciency, andcontrolinsocialcognition. In:Wyer Jr.
R S, Srull T K (eds.) Handbook of Social Cognition, 2nd edn. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Hillsdale, NJ, Vol. 1, pp.1-40
Categories: The Idle Ethnographer