The title is non-capitalised, because I’m just writing for fun. As an academic I travelled a lot, but aside from a long stint in New York was never really exposed to a culture. In the past year this travelling bike expert racket has given me opportunities to really hang with the locals. So here’s what i think.
The Dutch like mocking themselves before anyone like the English do it before them. I guess it comes from being always reminded that they live below-sea-level, ostensibly in a hole. Nearly half of the bike related events I’ve spoken at there have had a mad-cap presenter, like this guy. If it’s not a loud suit, it’s 1970s drag. I find it annoying. Then, whenever you meet Dutch architects working abroad, they can’t wait to give their buildings basement garages. They wear cycling the way a teenager wears her flaming red hair, erroneously thinking she’s ugly.
The United Statesians (I can’t call them “Americans” because some Colombian friends would just shoot me) have an inimitable way of looking right through you. You might have written the only two intellectually credible theses about cycling and built environment theory (this one and this one) but they’ll think the only reason you’re talking to them is to overstay in their country.
The Spanish think everyone on a bike is united in the fight against Franco. It’s hard not to love that radical flavour, especially when you realise everyone you just met at the conference will spend Sunday with you in the nude.
The Canadians are Australians, that’s easy. What are Australians? Surburbanite slobs. The bicycle is something you carry on the roof of your car, or that you use to stay fit while indulging your suburban lifestyle, or that you buy to look smug while resisting the densification of the inner suburb you were rich enough to buy into.
The Danes believe their own marketing hype, but don’t have much more than 1930s fonts on white backgrounds and a few pig farms. As they will tell you, however, they have woollen socks and ride in the snow. So while we celebrate the 500th anniversary of Luther’s Reformation, let’s pay them their dues.
The craziest bunch I’ve rubbed shoulders with as a result of this travelling bike evangelist show have been the Colombians. Now they are only robbed at knife point a few times a year, not every day, it’s like every day is D-Day and a time to let down their hair and go wild. I’ve never felt less likely to kill myself than during the week I spent there.
A really big surprise has been China. To look at, Shenzhen is a deep fried meme version of Singapore, where everything is wider, taller, denser, richer and poorer. But where Singaporeans are self-conscious about neither being Western or Eastern, free or controlled, traditional or modern, or any of the dualities they get themselves caught between, the Chinese are unashamed. They’ll never embrace British customs, like written contracts in place of getting shit faced with the company’s chairman, because China, like the US, is a world unto itself.
Last but not least, though, is Norway. I’m just smitten by that joint. They gained independence around the same time as Australia and still behave like late teens with a share house, as though some parent nation is watching. When not plagued by that thought, they’re skiing, as here in Australia we’re surfing.
Now who did I miss? I’ll happily lampoon them in the comments trough below.