Living with Strangers by Siri Hustvedt

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Living with strangers

In the text “Living with strangers” Siri Hustvedt discusses the lack of solidarity and the social rules, one may meet in a big city, like New York City.

Siri Hustvedt starts the essay by describing, the big difference she felt, when moving from rural Minnesota to New York City. She begins by briefly describing to the reader, how one was expected to behave, where she grew up. Whenever you encountered someone on the road, whether you knew them or not, you should always greet them. If you didn’t, you would be considered both rude and a snob, which was pretty much the worst thing, you could be in that part of rural Minnesota. Therefore, Siri Hustvedt quickly felt the difference between these two places, when greeting everyone you meet in downtown New York simply isn’t practical. But Hustvedt does not only describe it as impractical, but also as a kind of social code in the city.

The title “Living with strangers” refers to a paradox that is apparent in every major city, although never specifically mentioned in the essay: We are becoming increasingly isolated while being surrounded by more and more people. Siri Hustvedt describes this through an anecdote from her first apartment in New York. Even though she was living alone at the time, she represents her neighbors as roommates, because she was witness to several acts that should remain private, such as a heated argument from down stairs and walking around wearing only underwear. However, she did not know these people. They lived so close and unintentionally shared so many private moments and yet, Siri Hustvedt can still not see them as anything else other than “fellow New Yorkers”. That is why she is living with strangers.

One aspect Siri Hustvedt finds fascinating is the phenomenon she chooses to call the “pretend-it-isn’t-happening-law”, which is an extension of the previously mentioned etiquette about never greeting a person you do not know. It is a peculiar phenomenon because...
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