The one thing that America actually has over almost every other country in the world is a better gym culture. Better facilities, higher quantity of said facilities, and much better gym etiquette.
Space is at a premium in many other parts of the world, especially in Europe. It’s far more likely that gyms in these countries will resemble one of the New York City broom closet gyms than a Midwest Walmart-sized one.
But that’s not what I want to talk about today.
I suspect that actual gyms and fitness centers are relatively new developments almost anywhere in the US. The reason why? Walking!
Nobody has cars, everybody walks, and therefore that substituted for “fitness”. While I don’t agree with that on paper, a lot of folks out here walk many kilometers a day. Do that and don’t eat like a fatass, and you’ll be just fine.
The relative novelty of gyms, combined with cultures that generally don’t have much of a concept of “personal space” (I’m aware that the American one grants a lot of it) results in an absolute nightmare at gyms.
A STORY, YESTERDAY
Yesterday, I took the thirty minute tram ride out to the gym in the outskirts of the city. They have a basketball court, and I like to get my shots up. Being the best player in the gym doesn’t hurt my ego either—not many Europeans grew up playing basketball.
Of course, the court was closed down. Massive hole in the glass in the backboard. When will it be fixed?
“Uh, maybe a week or two.”
Alright, no big deal. I’ll lift anyway. I head to the decline bench press. As I’m racking up my weights, a young guy comes over with a barbell in hand. Sets in on the floor. I assume he’s going to do deadlifts.
The bar plus 2.5 pounds on each side.
But, the gym is small and he starts doing his bicep curls over my barbell. At one point he even hits my barbell on the decline press with his (thankfully I in the middle of performing movements), knocking one of the plates loose.
I readjust and carry on.
So I let him finish his set and then do mine, and this goes on for a few rounds.
Until I get under the bar on set 3, with 35kg on each side of the barbell. I un-rack, lower, and go back up. Out of the corner of my eye, I see him starting to do his curls…
His barbell bicep curls are literally inches from crashing into me while I’ve got nearly 100 kilograms above my head. Needless to say, I wanted no part of that. I re-racked, let him finish his set, and moved on.
I considered saying something but decided against it.
I move on to do some dumbbell presses. There’s a group of three younger guys (about 20) using the space next to me.
I go and grab my weights, and as I lay down…and one of them moves so close to me that I don’t have space to perform my movement. He didn’t see me, so I asked if he was done and he said yes and got out of my way.
Until the next set, when as I’m laying down, he starts doing side literal raises with dumbbells…and he starts doing them above my head.
To illustrate this point: if he had somehow dropped one of them, it would have literally fallen in a straight downward trajectory and on to my face (6kg dumbbells, which is roughly 13 pounds).
Again, I get up and stop what I’m doing. I look at him and ask if he can move…not above my head. He apologies and says yes. He seems to speak English well.
On my last set, I’m carrying a 30kg dumbbell in each hand. I’m walking to go and re-rack the weights. He’s busy goofing around with his friends, and stumbles backwards into me when I have the weight in my hand.
I turned around and said (rather loudly, as my new wireless headphones are noise-cancelling), “HEY, watch what you’re going. Someone is gonna get hurt.”
He and his friends start whispering and sniggering at each other in their native tongue I don’t speak well enough to understand.
Yeah, it’s probably best you talk shit in the foreign language and not English.
Does this post sound whiny?
I bet it does.
I don’t really have too much room to complain, life is good. This is a slightly petty post, I can admit.
However, I’m not really too keen to get my face smashed in by a dumbbell. 13 pounds coming at you from three feet in the air would do some pretty nasty damage.
Or, to have a barbell dropped on me because some guy whacked me with while doing bicep curls with a barbell—not to mention the damage it could cause to my already surgically repaired shoulder.
Some might say I should have said something to the first guy.
But really, how am I supposed to handle those situations? The second group got three warnings before I got mean about it. I understand, I’m the foreigner, I’m in their country. I should get acclimated to their own rules and standards.
I shouldn’t try to impose my way of doing things on to a culture that isn’t mine.
There is, however, a breaking point to that.
When it comes to my personal safety and not having my face caved in by a dumbbell, the line has to be drawn somewhere.
The point is, there are some things that the western world absolutely does better than the eastern part of it. The pluses of living out here drastically outweigh the minuses, but the little things can and will drive you crazy.
Leave a comment below and let me know what you think.