Speechless in Seattle

12 10 2013

OK – maybe not entirely speechless. It would take a most serious dose of laryngitis to render the Quieter Elephant completely silent. And let’s face it – the written word is more my medium than the spoken word at any time. My alter ego in real life… less so.

And maybe it was really more Bellingham than Seattle.

But that’s not the point! The point is, I couldn’t believe my ears, and was momentarily stunned.

This is the 21st Century!

In a supposedly well-educated, open-minded location too. (Washington State has to be up there in the “most liberal” listings. It’s just made marijuana legal after all. Even BC hasn’t managed to go there yet!)

From a student no less! Generally the most open-minded and progressive of thinkers.

A very obviously gay one to-boot!

So what’s riled me up so much? Well since you ask…

We went to REI near Bellingham today. We get a 20% discount this week, and we are in need of some new hiking boots and snow-shoes. The prices at REI are dollar for dollar the same as MEC, but they carry some different brands, the WA taxes are a little lower which offsets the no longer quite at parity Canadian dollar, and the 20% discount more than makes up for the fuel. So we enjoyed a little ferkle around the store and spent far too much despite the discount.

As a reward for this exertion, we piled en masse into Starbucks, across the car-park. Now this shopping area also hosts an outpost of the University of Western Washington, so the layout in Starbucks is a little more austere than usual and provides bench tables and wooden chairs in the assumption that most people will be there to use the free WiFi and there’s slightly less chance of them staying all day on the price of a single drip coffee if the chairs give you a numb bum. There were a couple of more Starbucks-esque comfy chairs, but these too seemed to have been re-purposed as temporary housing for student bodies.

No problem – we were only there for the duration of a London Fog and in the case of last-born, a sticky item of baked goods. We found three adjacent chairs at the refectory table and broke out the mobile phones to update the interwebs on our latest movements. [How lame…]

So I mentioned how much I’d enjoyed last night at the VIFF festival and seen That Burning Feeling – do go and watch it when it comes out on general release next year. Excellent stuff. A rom-com about gonorrhoea. Or Vancouver. Or unscrupulous property developers. Or what’s really important in relationships. Or something…

Always being one to make sure people are aware when I appreciate something, I’d posted my enjoyment of the film on the FB page of one of the actresses who had also taken part in a Q&A in the cinema after the screening. I mentioned to my son that she’d been gracious enough to acknowledge my remark and I was surprised. He asked where she was from, and I’d said that I believed she was from Vancouver. “Oo – those Canadians” he remarked in an ironic tone that I freely admit could be taken a million other ways by those not deeply steeped in British humour, irony, sarcasm and other subtleties.

If you need more convincing, check out the example translation matrix here:

 

But then, this pimply youth sitting next to us chirped in “Yeah – we hate them too!”

Mrs E, last-born and myself looked aghast at each other in turn. Had he just (i) been ear-wigging at our private conversation and worse… (ii) interjected a comment?!

We were horrified. On a number of levels. Firstly, there is the obvious misinterpretation of my son’s ironic remark as being negative. I could actually forgive that as I know very well that English humour can flummox even the most sophisticated follower. My son was actually implying – for humorous effect – that said actress had somehow flirted with me. (Itself highly amusing, given its improbability).  But that some random stranger should cross that invisible social barrier necessary in public spaces that allows us to pretend that our conversations are simply between ourselves! To a Brit, that is unforgivable.

Hell – we barely communicate with each other except through minuscule signals and complex innuendos. I’m sure that the total horror of Halloween is not realised for the non-English immigrant to North America. Imagine a continuous stream of random strangers knocking on your door – invading your privacy no less – and then actually expecting you to give them something before they leave! Incredible!! That, my dear reader, is called extortion! 😉

Worst for me though… this student had demonstrated his narrow-mindedness in assuming that just because we sounded English we could not be Canadian or take offence at his remark.

I was really pleased with myself for not pointing out that we at least had an operating government, but decided he likely wouldn’t get the sarcasm since linguistic subtlety seemed beyond his ken. Nor would he realise that the open-mindedness that allowed him, as a very obvious gay, to sit unmolested in complete safety and acceptance was the very same tolerance that should not permit such blatant racism.

And then I took a deep breath.

All those times I’ve poked fun at Americans… they just came home to bite, didn’t they?

In a small way it was like 9/11. You don’t really understand racism, terrorism, sexism or indeed any other attack, until it’s aimed at you. I had never, in my nearly 50 years felt anything like a racist attack. I’m white, male, middle class. Yet this careless remark from a kid who probably thought nothing of it had really struck home.

I suddenly understood why with the best intentions, my support of feminist ideals was hollow. I could never truly understand what it felt like to be passed over simply for my gender. Or my colour, race, (lack of) religion, and a thousand other traits that I was currently classed as “normal” or “dominant” in.

Yet here, in a very small way, I had felt the sting of racism. And I realised something very important in that brief moment…

I was very proud to call myself Canadian.

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3 responses

13 10 2013
sheriji

As you should. They’re among some of my favorite people. 🙂

“I suddenly understood why with the best intentions, my support of feminist ideals was hollow. I could never truly understand what it felt like to be passed over simply for my gender.” The key problem for a lot of things — despite our best intentions, we can’t always truly understand. The key to hope: that a lot of us, yourself included, actually really try.

13 10 2013
Quieter Elephant

Thanks Sheriji. I still think it was karma coming back to bite after all my years of poking fun at Bush(es)… 😉

14 10 2013
sheriji

It’s not prejudicial if it applies to a particular person, is objectively observable, and is true. Just sayin’.

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