Home > Culture, Travel > Weather Delay

Weather Delay

Montlake Bridge

Montlake Bridge

James Fallows had a post yesterday that was inspired by a flight he took within China the night before. Fallows has been reporting from China for years, but the flight provided him with new insight into the differences between Chinese and American culture. I certainly recognized myself in his description of American behavior.

The precipitating event was bad weather in Beijing, which forced his return flight to Beijing to be diverted to Tianjin, where it sat on the tarmac for three hours before being able to head back to Beijing. Fallows observes:

On American planes, at the instant of the “unfortunately we are going to divert to…” announcement, the cabin would have resounded with angry sighs, “goddamit”s, “not again!”s, “I hate the airlines,” and similar ventings of exasperated and entitled put-uponness. As the hours of delay went on — we sat at on the tarmac at Tianjin for about three hours– you could depend on a planeful of Americans to be rolling their eyes, making sarcastic comments, looking self-importantly at their watches, and generally demonstrating how inconvenienced they were.

There was none of that on this plane! People slept. They read. They chatted. They snacked. But mainly they didn’t act as if they were undergoing some big ordeal. Eventually the plane took off again, we landed at Beijing around 1am, and people got home about four hours later than they expected to.

This struck me because of what it showed about “public manners” in China, an ongoing source of consternation fascination for me. On the one hand, people’s treatment of others in public spaces is the thing I enjoy and admire least about China — as initially laid out here. For instance, the purely-theoretical nature of “lines” — at ticket counters, subway doors, or anywhere else. (Things worked better once I realized that the proper English concept was not the “line” or “queue” but the “wedge.” You join at the sides and work your way inward and ahead.) The ubiquitous spitting in public places. The Hobbesian pattern of traffic flows — as below, in Charles Dukes’ snapshot of what happened today when a taxi passenger in Beijing opened the door without stopping to wonder whether a “bread box” taxi might be shooting the gap between the stopped taxi and the curb. The absence of little social-courtesy grace notes — I will probably have a heart attack if I ever see a young man stand up to give a subway seat to an old person or pregnant woman, or see the first person into an elevator push the “open” button to let others in rather than immediately hammering at “close.” I’ll stress that these are public manners, for people you don’t know. For people to whom you have some connection, no gesture of consideration is too great!

So why were the same people who would, once the plane got to Beijing, undoubtedly be climbing over each other to be first out the door, now taking everything with such calm good grace? I don’t know, but my working hypothesis is this: many people in China have actually absorbed the old saw about “the serenity to accept the things I can’t change.” They scramble and fight when they think it will make even a tiny difference. When they know it won’t, they calm down rather than pout. (Americans, by contrast, pout even when it does no good.)

Just half an hour ago, Gail and I were heading back to the house from north Seattle. As we approached Montlake Boulevard southbound, by the university, we saw that the cars were backed up. Darn. The bridge must have been up. I whined to Gail that I hate driving north of the cut (the Montlake “cut”, the artificial waterway not far from our house that allows ships to pass from Lake Washington to Portage Bay and Lake Union on their way to the locks on out to Puget Sound) on weekends in good weather. We’re bound to get caught by the rising of the Montlake Bridge (pictured above — it’s the bascule bridge over the cut) in one direction or the other. And sure enough, it had caught us, in a long line backed up by its last rise. Well, that wasn’t the worst of it. Just as we were approaching the bridge a few minutes later, four cars away from crossing it, the light turned red and it went up again. I ranted for a few seconds, even as Gail pointed out that we could just keep talking.

Waiting for bridges is part of life in Seattle. We all know it. I’ve had 28 years here to figure it out. But it annoys me as much as weather delays on an airplane annoy me. On the other hand, I do prefer lines to wedges.

Categories: Culture, Travel
  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: