Living with Strangers
To top the essence of discomfort off, Hustvedt states that “On the subway, I found myself in intimate contact with people I didn’t know, my body pressed so tightly against hem, I could smell their hair oils, perfumes and sweat. ” (p. 1, l. 4-16) This closeness is something that most of us, Hustvedt as well, saves exclusively to boyfriends and close family – This exclusiveness only survives because of the ‘Pretend it isn’t happening’-rule. Throughout the essay Hustvedt takes us down her memory-lane of New York, where she tell us the things that can describe exactly why her view on urban living is how it is. The ‘Pretend it isn’t happening’-rule seems to be the most visible theme in the essay. To an outsider taking a stance against something that is clearly wrong seems logical, if not almost necessary.
Whereas Hustvedt says that in New York that is uncommon and almost illogical behavior, because of the possible outcomes when someone is asked to stop whatever they felt they had the right to do. This is allowed because of the aforementioned rule. To explain her point further Siri Hustvedt exemplifies it for us. Hustvedts’ husband had witnessed a man stepping on the subway with a lit cigarette, another man confronted him politely by stating that it’s illegal to smoke on he subway, the smoker had then replied “Do you wanna die? To much luck the smoker had to get off the subway at the next stop, which resulted in a quick ending to the affairs, but Hustvedt points out that this couldVe ended much, much worse. Siri Hustvedt almost attempts to Justify the ‘pretend it isn’t happening’-rule, by showing the dangers ot not pretending. Hustvedt points out that New Yorkers barely even notice that they’re doing it, it’s such a custom reaction to these situations that in the urban cities you’re raised with them – Just as you’re raised with table manners.
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To exemplify this Siri Hustvedt mentions her daughter, Sophie, who has adapted to the behavioral pattern already as “she feigns deafness when the inevitable stray character comes along and tries a pickup. ” (p. 2, l. 80-81) and that her daughter has been “refining the frozen, blank expression that accompanies the Pretend law. ” (p. 2, 1. 76-77) In the same example Hustvedt explains that her daughter often gets hit on and some of these admirers are more stray than others.
One day Sophie had experienced a man who had been shamelessly staring at her, but when he stepped ff the train and the daughter didn’t, the man had thrown himself against the window and yelled “l love you” at her. Sophie had felt embarrassed and frightened, but the man next to her had commented “It looks like you have an admirer”. To this Siri Hustvedt explains that “His understatement not only defined the comedy inherent in the scene; it lifted my daughter out of the solitary misery that comes from being the object of unwanted attention among strangers. ” (p. 3, l. 92-94).
This example turns the essay towards a new point-of-view, whereas the reader started out ith having a sense of displeasure and discomfort towards urban living, Hustvedt turns the entire essay around in the end where she enlightens us that urban living is not all that bad: “Nevertheless, compliments, insults, banter, smiles, and genuine conversations among strangers are part of the city’s noise, its stimulus, its charm. ” (p. 3, l. 102-104) in this quote, Hustvedt points out to us that isn’t not only incredibly dull, if urban life only revolved around “pretending it’s not happening”, but that is it almost down-right impossible.
She also states that because of this rule, those who break it make a turning point to everyday life and it’s those people who make urban living all the more charming. Siri Hustvedt mentions that “Sometimes a brief exchange with an unknown person marks you forever, not because it is profound but because it is uncommonly vivid. ” (p. 3, l. 112-113) and to end the essay she mentions a moment 20 years earlier in her life, where a homeless man had called her beautiful and asked her to dinner, and when she politely said ‘no’, he then had grinned and aid “Lunch? This example not only supports her statement that it has indeed marked her forever, but it almost seems like what then wouldVe seemed rather creepy – now is a little comical and it probably even lifts her spirit when thinking about it. l, for one, believe that the statement is as true as anything can be. It’s not always the deep conversations you have with your family and closest friends that mark you, it’s the sudden situations; because they’re not forced and that makes them all the more real and therefore deep.
I may not live in a true urban city like Copenhagen or New York, but the ‘pretend’-rule is everywhere – and because of that all of the times that it’s broken may seem a little odd or even scary at first can make the rest of one’s day all the more interesting. A sudden compliment, a smile to a stranger or even a short conversation with someone about why the train is delayed – yet again. It gives one time to reflect over the minor things in life and sometimes it may even remind you Just how little you actually are – in a good way, of course.