Stereotypes are unfair – usually
Yesterday morning a friend and I went on a ride. It was a pretty great ride, full of new roads, roads that weren’t really roads, fantastic vistas, good food, fine weather, and interaction with some of the local folk.
Once you get outside of metropolitan Adelaide it doesn’t take long before you are surrounded by people who have left the big-city mindset behind (some of you may be of the opinion that even metropolitan Adelaide isn’t very metropolitan, which wouldn’t be entirely untrue…). That’s probably why many people choose to live in the country.
In the country, you may find people who aren’t really concerned with modern opinions, with new ways of thinking. It’s easier to stick to yourself if you want to and not be bothered by anything or anyone you don’t agree with.
I’m completely stereotyping here, of course. There are tons of ultra-modern people in the country who are just as concerned with keeping up with the Joneses as those city-folk, just as you will find backwards and closed-minded Luddites lurking throughout metropolitan areas everywhere, and everyone in between.
Still, I’m going to run with the stereotype, because assuming that simple and old-fashioned people with outdated modes of thought will have a distaste for cyclists, and vice versa, just feels right…
So like I said, the ride was full of unfamiliar roads, and we were both feeling pretty tired. There were options along the way, ranging from enormously strenuous to still pretty strenuous, and we stopped at a crossroad to consult our maps (phones) and consider our options.
Whilst we were mid-consult, a friendly local across the road shouted out, inquiring as to our desired direction of travel.
“You’re not planning on going up there, are you?”, he said, pointing at the steepest of the options. ”
“We were”, we replied, “but we might take this road instead”, referring to the gravelly one heading just off to the left.
“You’ll never make it up there on bikes like that”, he said quite confidently. “Not with tyres like those.”
“You’d be surprised”, I replied, feeling confident in our manly ability and steely resolve.
Anyways, this went on for a few minutes in between conversation about his neighbors that he and my friend shared a common acquaintance with, local road nomenclature, and a bit of general chit-chat.
And then, it happened.
“If you guys can make it through those roads…”, is how he began the next sentence. I was expecting him to continue with something along the lines of, “then come back ’round here and I’ll pour you a beer”, for our legs were free of hair and we rode upon steeds of carbon. Stories would be told of our heroics. We were not going to be defeated by simple objects lacking strength of character and volition (ooooh, rocks – you just got burned!).
“…then why can’t you lot get off the bloody roads when cars are trying to pass!”
The friendly, toothless, weathered, older gentleman wearing overalls with pockets full of tools became the toothless, weathered, cyclist-hating older gentleman wearing overalls with pockets full of tools, and things got a bit tense. The unfair stereotype sprouted limbs and smacked us between the eyes.
A few attempts at replies to this and a few additional thoughts quickly escalated to talk of engaging cyclists via the barrel of a shot-gun, in that I’m-chuckling-as-I-say-this-but-I’m-still-quite-serious kind of way, and after quickly realizing that this was not a battle we were likely to win, we decided it would be a good time to carry on our way.
A few things to take away from this were:
- You can’t judge someone based on how they appear. Not until they totally confirm your initial unfair stereotype, anyway. Until then, though, everyone could be awesome. Actually, they still might be, they just might not agree with you.
- People who don’t like cyclists on their roads are actually nice people when they’re not talking about, or thinking about, or driving behind, cyclists on their roads.
- I had plenty of responses for him – just not then and there. I had a strong reaction to what he was saying, but my strong responses didn’t come until we were down the road a bit. Happens every time. I need to take a page out of Churchill’s book and have a painfully clever response to every conceivable question or statement planned in advance (I have no idea where I heard this many years ago, but I like it, even if it’s not true). Or at least a few generic zingers to make them stop and think for a second.
- Old Country Guy didn’t necessarily hate cyclists, evidenced by the fact that he willfully engaged a pair of tall skinny white guys in Lycra and funny cloppy shoes, straddling weedy looking bikes and speaking with foreign accents. It seems to me, rather, that he had a strong distaste for people who disrespected what he believed to be the proper order of things pertaining to vehicular transport arteries. Which are basically only cyclists… Still, cyclists are fine, as long as they don’t impede or give rise to any cause for motorists to alter their course or speed in any way whatsoever. So essentially as long as they don’t cycle on the roads… It would seem, judging by his remarks, that cyclists are merely narcissistic anarchists, focused on how they can best disrupt the proper nature of things for their own pleasure at the expense of everyone else.
- I wish I could transport myself back to these moments with what I would like to have said after having thought about it a bit. I think, given that his view of people in general seemed to be quite reasonable, but his view of cyclists cycling on his roads seemed to be quite mixed up in emotions based on a misunderstanding of what the intentions of cyclists and the reasons for their actions actually are, that had we sat down and had a good, open conversation about it, we could have reached some sort of mutual understanding and maybe even some respect.
- I think that the next time something like this happens, I would like to refrain from responding immediately, and instead start with, “Really? Tell me more…”, so I can try to understand why they have the feelings they do about cyclists so I can figure out how to find that common ground we share as people. Oh, and to buy some time so I can figure out how to completely burn them to a crisp.
Anyway, that didn’t happen. Call it a missed opportunity. I’m not sure that his perception of cyclists has changed any, but at least I got to reflect on the fact that people aren’t one-dimensional. People can be remarkably multi-dimensional, in fact. Those who appear to be one thing on the surface can be, and often are, something else entirely, and if you stop to listen for a minute you might end up discovering that you have more than a few things in common. We need to have a conversation about it in order to find out. That includes people in cars, for the record.
Nevertheless, as it happened, the stereotype that our rural friend initially conjured up in my head turned up to be somewhat accurate.
Sadly, so was his. We definitely had to dismount and walk a decent section of that road…
Header image: source