Just because you’re an arsehole doesn’t make you racist

6 12 2014

So we went to get a pile of groceries today. We went to Langley because we like the food selection available in Real Canadian Superstore (Loblaw). (To my knowledge there isn’t a Pretend Canadian Superstore, before you ask.) It’s been a while, and they’ve changed things up a bit. The pricing is a bit – how shall I put it? – sneaky!

There’s now often two prices on the shelf for an item, so you need your wits about you. It may have price A in a large font, then below it there is price B in a smaller font. Alongside this higher price B is one of two statements. (i) If you buy the item individually instead in sets of perhaps 3 or 6, then you pay the higher price per item. (ii) if you buy more than a maximum number of the item, perhaps 2 or 4, then you pay the higher price.

For some reason I was overcome with the urge to try tinned chilli. Not quite sure what came over me. There was a bewildering array of options, brands and prices. And you guessed it – they all had these weird two-tier prices. Should I buy a single tin? Was it worth taking a chance that I’d really like it and buy 6 tins to get the lower price? That tin is more expensive but only needs 2 others to trigger the lower price. Ah… my brain hurts!

It was whilst contemplating these decidedly first world problems that my mental calculations were disturbed by a most un-Canadian event. I missed the trigger. Perhaps someone rudly barging past a fellow shopper. Perhaps some impolite glance. Whatever the initial cause, I heard very loud and close behind me a woman saying “What did you say? I’m not from Surrey you fucking racist. Say it to my face!”

For those of you not resident in the Lower Mainland of BC, Surrey is the second largest city, sprawling out to the East of Vancouver. It has a cosmopolitan make-up, but undeniably has one of the regions larger concentrations of Punjabi Indians. This makes for an amazing selection of restaurants, and some bizarrely large houses. I myself live at the southern end of Surrey where it meets White Rock. Despite its diverse cultures and many successful businesses, it is not without its problem areas and drug crime (primarily Marijuana grow-ops). These things have led to such unfair stigmas as “Better safe than Surrey” and “Brown Town” to name a few. As an ex-pat from the UK, I have to say that it is still way safer than pretty much any European city I have visited. Racism is real, to be sure, but it’s nothing compared to the skin-head days I witnessed as a youth in the UK’s 70s.

So anyway, I turned to see a young woman of Indian extraction (with a very Canadian accent) wearing typical weekend “daggy” clothes – hoody jacket and black leggings. She was with a middle aged Indian lady whom I took to be her mother. Facing off with her was a white guy in his 30s wearing a lumberjack shirt and accompanied by a pretty Philippino lady of similar age – better dressed than the rest of us put together.

Obviously unable to “let it lie”, the guy took umbrage at being called a racist, and said so. This presumably was accompanied with gesticulations towards his Philippino companion. I say presumably, because my English genes kicked back in, and I had entered my little bubble containing myself and the pricing dilemma of tinned chilli. My back was therefore once more turned on the scene in the hopes that it would simply dissolve and go away. But no. What we had here was “young lady with massive chip on shoulder” vs. “hurt male ego in front of girlfriend”.

The guy said he had assumed she was from Surrey not because of her ethnic origin but because of her “ghetto clothes”. She seemed well-versed in Anglo-Saxon profanity, questioned his education, and generally showed a most unladylike handling of the situation. Her poor mother, whom I felt completely sorry for, was struggling to keep her in check, and to let things go.

Eventually I settled on 2 tins of Campbell’s steak chilli, though I’m not convinced I’d made the right choice. As the air cleared, I saw a group of around 5 youngish Indian guys wearing turbans and carefully watching the lumberjack shirt retreating to continue his shopping. This could have turned very ugly indeed, it seemed. A minute or two later, I encountered the guy talking to what appeared to be his father – similarly dressed in checked padded shirt. He seemed proud of his “argument with that lady”. His use of “lady” did not imply any inherent distaste for the woman.

I found the whole thing fascinating. Presumably the young lady had slighted the guy in some way – perhaps by barging past or something equally innocent. He had made some comment about her “going back to Surrey”. He’d intended this as a comment on her clothing. She’d jumped to the assumption it was a racist attack and verbally lashed out. The guy felt the need to defend himself against the accusation of being racist. Both seemed to agree that coming from Surrey was a bad thing.

I’m an immigrant. I live in Surrey. On reflection, perhaps they were both attacking me!

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