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Umbrellas and the Nature of Civic Responsibility

Chris Farmer RSS / 04.04.2013. u 18:50

PRACTICAL TIP: In a yes or no question, the answer is almost never "it's not my ice cream."

Had I known that, I probably would not have experienced this afternoon's cerebral implosion. As it happens, I walked up to the kiosk and asked my question, anticipating a no, hoping for a yes. And that is what I got.

The backstory is equally ridiculous, but that is entirely my fault. Yesterday, sensing rain, I went out into the streets armed with my umbrella. An umbrella, as we all know, very nearly qualifies as public property. If you leave it someplace, it is no longer yours but passes into the public domain on the basis of need. This having been said, I was somewhat attached to this particular umbrella. I had kept it for at least 8 months without losing it. It was the right size and worked well. For the past months, it has served as my principle umbrella while the primary and secondary backups remained in the trunk of my car.

I stopped by the kiosk on Trg Republika to take out my hat and gloves, and, in so doing, hooked my umbrella on the adjacent ice cream stand. I then walked away without my umbrella - realizing the omission only eight bus stops later. My point is that I did not actually lose the umbrella, but I abandoned it.

Thinking today that I might try to see if some kindly soul had kept the abandoned umbrella for me, I stopped by the kiosk to ask if it had been found. Hence the yes or no question. I asked the woman nicely, noting that I had left it by accident on her ice cream wagon.

"It's not my ice cream."
"Yes, but -" I tried to clarify that it could be the Pope's ice cream and it would not matter to my question.
"What do you want?"
"I left my - "
"It's not my ice cream."

This is a classic Schrödinger's Cat scenario wherein the answer, ensconced inside her head, could be simultaneously both yes and no. I will never know if she found my umbrella and gave it to her nephew Vuk who went out yesterday without one and ran the risk of catching a cold. Or not. She flatly refused to answer my question, but she opened up a larger one.

Her response meant to me that she wanted a dialogue on the Nature of Civic Responsibility. In this dialectic, I already had three strikes against me: a) I was stupid enough to leave it there; b) it is not her ice cream and therefore does not behoove her to feel responsible for items left thereupon, c) and I was naive enough to come back and ask about it.

The interesting part to me is the circuitous route which led her from my question to her neighbor's ice cream. I asked about an umbrella. She heard me accusing her of having an ice cream wagon. From having the wagon, she moved quickly along to whose responsibility it might be for the wagon, and who should answer questions about it, and how could I possibly think that she might be answerable to its inadvertent contents (i.e., my umbrella). And, therefore: "It's not my ice cream."


She could have said, as people are very fond of doing here, "no." I would have been slightly disappointed but unsurprised. But in denying ownership of the ice cream, she managed to make me both slightly disappointed AND surprised.

Tomorrow, with my primary backup umbrella in hand, I will stop by again and ask to buy an ice cream from her.



Komentari (8)

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milojep milojep 19:24 04.04.2013


You shouldn't have to tell her that it was her ice cream wagon!Because of that ,she tought that umbrella-loss is her responsibillity also .
Chris Farmer Chris Farmer 19:36 04.04.2013

Re: Fear

Thinking, always a problem.....

rade.radumilo rade.radumilo 21:52 04.04.2013

Some more practical tips

Here is a couple of practical tips for asking questions in this corner of the world:

1. Any question could be met with a question based on one of these:
a) Why do you ask that?
b) What do you need that for?
The answer to your original question will be based on your answer to this new question.

2. The answer: "It's not my problem" is probably best one you could get, although you'll never hear it in it's original form.
Vera Johnson Vera Johnson 00:06 05.04.2013

ohhh chris

u are not from midwest of the usa?

nemoj srati, zivota ti. hope u learned enough serbian to understand...
do you remember K mart and Wall Mart?
G.Cross G.Cross 09:27 05.04.2013

Mujo i Haso

Poso Mujo da pozajmi bicklo od Hase , pa se misli:

sad cu ja da ga lepo zamolim a on ce da kaze

- ne mogu da ti pozajmim, pukla mi guma
- ja cu da kazem, ma nema problema, zalpicu je ja
- a on ce da kaze, ali biciklo je prljavo
- ja cu ka kazem , opracu ga ja
- on ce da kaze ali svetlo ne radi
- ja cu da kazem, pa kupicu ja novu lampu
- on ce da kaze, ali sedalo je pocepano
- ja cu da kazem ; ma nema veze
- on ce da kaze...

i u to dodje pred Hasinu kucu i pozvoni.
Haso otvori,Oooo zdravo Mujo...

I Mujo kaze: Ma jebi se i ti i tvoje beciklo

jedna_jelena jedna_jelena 09:36 05.04.2013


...still remember how did I steel one. Unintentionally, in defense, :).
It happened in bus 27. I had the big one, with the big hook at the end. Still have, it's great, but truly impractical. Specially for the crowded 27.
Somehow, I grabbed a seat and found out that girl next to me had the similar one. Very soon it became clear that at least one of us will end with wet trousers IF we don't do something. She was nice and smiling, I was nice and smiling and she accepted the idea that I take both the umbrellas and hold it in my right hand, with slight moving to her seat. Very good solution, since nobody hasn't get wet, neither one of us nor people who was standing between the seats. I was sooooo proud of us.
Than we reached my station, I stand up, say very smiley hi to fellow traveler, get the same from her and walked out of the bus with BOTH the umbrellas in the hand. And crossed the street and than realized what have just done.

It was few years ago. As you can see, I remember everything very clearly, so understand that still feel guilty. I really hope this didn't lead that she doesn't trust smiling strangers in the bus...
jednatanja jednatanja 23:28 05.04.2013


is common in people of "lower rank" or who feel so ...not taking responsibility for things they are not in charge of...this happens even when someone DOES have the ownership of the subject matter...in Germany I talked to a store manager who asnwered my every question with "I do not know, I do not decide, HQ does, you have to write to HQ"...recent msnbc article talked about a nurse(!) in some Nursing Home facility who would not perform CPR on a woman as this was against the rule although 911 dispatcher begged her on the phone to do it, the woman died, it sparked a big controversy. The line where humanity meets the urge to be correct/obedient, do things (im)properly, avoid responsibility, is indeed, a thin one. Sorry about the umbrella.

Chris Farmer Chris Farmer 00:25 06.04.2013

Re: This

I traded the umbrella for a story. Fair.
It is a lot more than can be said for the woman in the kiosk...



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