Us and Them

Brief Encounters, Tales of Everday Life: Nov. 2012

Columns | Vienna Review | November 2012

"Zug fährt ab!" sounded the warning of "train departing!" as I jumped through the U-Bahn doors at the last minute before they closed behind me with a loud thud.

Thankfully, I had a four-seater all to myself, with an extra seat for my bags and one for my legs. Lacking a better way to pass the time, I started checking out my fellow passengers. A boy of about 12 was stretched out, bottom on the edge of his seat and legs kicked out in front, almost lying down. He was speaking animatedly on his new iPhone5.

Then he turned abruptly and his cap fell on the ground, but he was so caught up arguing on the phone, he didn’t notice. I made eye contact and nodded towards the spot on the ground where his hat had fallen.

Immediately, the boy sat up, back perfectly straight and legs crossed in a formal way, cheeks blushing. "No, no," I said, "your hat..," pointing at the cap on the ground, suddenly realizing to my dismay that he had thought I was giving him a dirty look for his lack of U-Bahn etiquette.

It was so bizarre. The boy was afraid of getting in trouble with me(!), while I’m still afraid of a sharp word from the ever-watchful "old" folks. I had jumped the fence between "us and them", and became one of "them."

At 22 years of age, I am old.

- Paula Jahn

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