Posted by: Shanna Germain | 08/03/2009

Pg. 125: What They Know


Today’s seaside walk. Caught between rain showers.



  • Weather: The usual. Which is mainly: pour, sun, pour, sun, pour. Every five minutes.
  • Mileage: Five miles. Hot damn!
  • Food: Chicken in pesto, roasted sweet taters.
  • Discovery: When I stand in the chippie shop, and they’re all talking around me and to me, this is exactly what it sounds like. Only slightly less understandable.
  • Media: Out Stealing Horses, Per Petterson. Fantastic book. I highly recommend it.
  • Best Thing: I have new sneakers! (“walking shoes” for Portlandites, “trainers” for the UKers).
  • Worst Thing: Baby blister on foot. Wah!
  • Word of the Day: Many. Here they are. And not a single one of them is pronounced how it looks.


So, today, a bit from Out Stealing Horses, which I am reading, and which I stumbled on at the very fabulous Rothesay library (I have to say, I am a library lover and something of a connoisseur, and I’ve had two very fantastic libraries in my life–the one in Ithaca (where I grew up), and the one in Portland (where I grew up the second time), thus I am a library snob, but Rothesay has one of the best small-town libraries I’ve ever seen, and I’m delighted to find amazing little gems of unknown (to me) books and authors every time I go in there).

In the book, the narrator has moved to a small town in an isolated part of Norway (sound familiar, anyone?) and in this scene, he describes going to the co-op (a thing I do every other day or so), and he talks about how the locals are beginning to interact with him. In this scene, he’s buying groceries, and the woman at the check-out counter has asked him a question. This, as he describes it, is exactly my experience here on the Isle, and rather than reiterate, I thought I’d share some of his beautiful language and voice with you.

People like it when you tell them things, in suitable portions, in a modest, intimate tone, and they think they know you, but they do not, they know -about- you, for what they are let in on are facts, not feelings, not what your opinion is about anything at all, not how what has happened to you and how all the decisions you have made have turned you into what you are. What they do is they fill in their own assumptions, and they compose a new life which has precious little to do with yours, and that lets you off the hook. No-one can touch you unless you yourself want them to. You only have to be polite and smile and keep paranoid thoughts at bay, because they will talk about you no matter how much you squirm, it is inevitable, and you would do the same thing yourself…

I suffer a sudden onset of meaningless melancholy and feel the eyes of the check-out lady on my forehead as I search for the money to pay, the widower is what she sees, they do not understand anything and it is just as well.

“Here you are,” she says quietly in a voice as soft as silk, as she gives me my change and I say:

“Many thanks,” and I am on the verge of tears, for Christ’s sake, and go out quickly with my purchases in a bag and across to the filling station. I have been lucky. They do not understand a thing.

~Out Stealing Horses, Per Petterson

Far and fast, s.




  1. “…and you would do the same thing yourself… ”

    So very true. As much as I’d like to say I was above all that. That I had become enlightened or informed – walked a mile in their shoes and all…

    In the end, I do the same thing myself; come to my own conclusions. Fill in my perceived gaps and make judgement instead of just letting them be.

    I am working on it – if I don’t get it right this time around, maybe next.

    Who knows.


    • I know. It’s human nature, isn’t it? To be on both sides of that scenerio, all that time. I try to learn from it too, but some days I’m better at it than others.

      -hugs- s.

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