An Island Is Like a Fishbowl
When our friends Alex and Hulda visited us last fall, we went a little nuts with crabs at the fish house. We bought 24 crabs, which is a lot for 4 adults and 4 little kids. A couple of hours later, we went to the store to buy other ingredients for our crab feast. Someone said, “I heard you bought 24 crabs.” For me, who had spent most of my life in big cities, that was a bit of a cultural shock.
Coming to a small island, we of course expected that everyone would know each other’s business. But the speed at which news travels is astounding. As we started to settle in last year and get to know people, we realized that the new people we met already knew a lot about us. Not long after I arrived, a complete stranger gave me a ride in his car. I tried to explain where our house was, and he said, “I know where you live.” He never asked what was my name. Like a fishbowl, everyone pretty much knows what everyone is doing.
Also like a fishbowl, it’s hard to escape. You don’t like someone? Too bad, you’ll have to deal with that person one way or another. You don’t like the guy working on the store? Too bad, because it’s the only one on the island. (Everyone happens to like the store and the people who work there, to be clear.) Want to blow off some steam? You need to wait for the next ferry. In a bigger place, you can hop from one job to another, one school to another, one neighborhood to another. Here, your ability to “leave”, both physically and mentally, is drastically diminished.
Lack of privacy. Lack of choice. How un-American! Well, I think privacy is highly overrated, and so is choice. These things bred bad behavior. With rare exceptions, everyone here in Rødøy acts very civilly to one another, because you don’t have the luxury to throw nasty fits and leave. You have to try your best to get along. You learn to accept people. You have no choice but to trust everyone.
If you’re a nice person who gets along with people, island life is wonderful. Friends drop by unannounced. People drop off fish at your door. Help is a phone call away. But if you’re someone who have left a trail of destruction through your life, an island is not a pleasant place to be.
Many years ago we visited Catalina, an island in southern California. A local there told us about how the island “expels” bad residents. Your mail suddenly stops coming. Your garbage stops getting picked up. Your neighbor stops greeting you in the morning. On Rødøy, we haven’t heard of people deliberately getting together to kick someone off the island. But if you can’t get along with people, life can be very uncomfortable. Like a fishbowl, you eat your only shit.