Frankly … social Trends and tolerance

An extra-terrestrial on the bus and a man daubed with face paint: not such an unusual sight in a big city. Is one allowed to look? – Or is it better to show tolerance and look away?

By Maximilian Buddenbohm

On a bus If you travel by bus in a city with over a million inhabitants, you will encounter all kinds of interesting figures – quite normal, isn't it? | Photo (Detail): Chuttersnap © Unsplash
A woman gets on the bus – either she has painted herself blue or she’s an extra-terrestrial. Her face, hands and ankles are blue, in fact all of her visible skin is blue. And yet she is dressed in such bog-standard office clothes that one could hardly imagine a typical workday on Aldebaran beginning in any other way. She doesn’t look like she’s in the mood for a party or heading off to a fancy-dress do – not at all. She is simply blue as a Smurf and staring expressionlessly at her mobile phone, just as everyone around her is also doing. And indeed why not.

Blue as a Smurf on the bus

Okay, I live in a big city of several million inhabitants, so these things happen, I think to myself. So I simply stop looking, in line with the unspoken promise of big cities that people can go around with their skin painted blue, or with pink feathers in their hats, or with whatever else tickles their fancy, without being stared at stupidly by all and sundry the whole time – as would be the case in a village where the worst possible crime is to stick out from the crowd. At least this is the unspoken promise of big cities in theory. So I do my best to uphold it by looking out of the bus window and paying no further attention to the blue woman.
Incidentally, this is also something I taught my sons right from the start, reminding them time and again: “Stop staring! People here are allowed to be however they like!” After all, it matters not one jot whether someone has been having a really tough time of it or chooses to be different simply for fun – that is not the point. The point is to show tolerance, and the best way to begin is not to stare at people who are different in any way.
This backfired on me somewhat, however; my sons have internalized this to such an extent that they now both admonish me the moment I notice something that looks like it might be of interest for a column, an idea or a story: “Stop staring, Dad! That’s what you always say!” Consequently, I have actually seen many of the scenes I write about only briefly. One does want to set – and continue to set – a good example, after all.

A construction worker wearing face paint

At the next stop a man gets in who is clearly a construction worker. He is wearing lots of orange, plus clumpy safety boots, and he is carrying a huge tool over his shoulder. It is something between a leaf blower and a hammer drill, but unfortunately I do not have the foggiest idea what it might be – though it certainly looks like it is powerful and would make a hell of a lot of noise.
And the man has some kind of war paint on his face. He has daubed stripes on his cheeks, the kind you see in those films where everyone is dressed in camouflage and is crawling stealthily through the undergrowth. The stripes are wide and much more coarse than make-up. They are certainly intentional, however, as accidental stripes could never turn out so symmetrical. The stripes are black and look like they were painted on using engine oil; what is more, the man looks really cheerful and is beaming at everyone. Who knows, perhaps he’s having the best day of his life and is off with his massive work tool to have a kind of fun that desk-based guys like me could not even imagine.
Okay, so I live in a city of several million inhabitants. I now have to think carefully about whether these two people on the bus were just a particularly weird coincidence or perhaps evidence of yet another new and cool fashion trend born in Berlin.
For now, however, I’ll still be going out without any kind of paint on. You can’t simply jump on the bandwagon and follow every trend, after all.

“Frankly …”

On an alternating basis each week, our “Frankly ...” column series is written by Maximilian Buddenbohm, Qin Liwen, Dominic Otiang’a and Gerasimos Bekas. In “Frankly ... social”, Maximilian Buddenbohm reports on the big picture – society as a whole – and on its smallest units: family, friendships, relationships.