Thursday, June 14, 2018

shocking insults

It was a typical Mexican restaurant.

The food was traditional. The decor was spartan. And the television blared to an almost-empty house.

There were three occupied tables. A Mexican couple. A northern couple. And me.

It was not a usual stopping point for me. But I had eaten there often enough to know the family who owns the place. And well enough to know the eccentricities of the infrastructure.

My carne en su jugo had just arrived when the television flickered and went out. I am accustomed to power outages here. But, that was not the problem. The large fan in the center of the restaurant was still turning.

Then I saw the culprit. The woman of the northern couple was fooling around with the electrical octopus that provided power to several devices. Including the television.

The owner's daughter, who has just served me, simply frowned. But said nothing.

I knew what she was thinking. The outlet also included the control unit for the television's satellite service. Unplugging it would take a lot of time to get it up and running again.

"Excuse me," I said to the woman intent in her task. "What are you doing?"

She looked up at me as if I were something she had just scraped off the bottom of her shoe. "It isn't any of your business, but I need to plug in my tablet. And that television is way too loud. No one will eat here with all that noise."

I ignored her Eleanor Roosevelt impression, and tried to stay focused on my concern. "You are going to cause a problem with the satellite reception by unplugging the power."

She ignored me. By that time the daughter had called in the real enforcer. Her mother. The cook. She came out of the kitchen, saw what was happening, and rushed over to the northern woman. Wagging her finger in a way that only a Mexican mother can.

The northern woman retreated to her table, but not before giving me the stink eye. Her husband commiserated with her in a stage whisper directed at me with a studied passive-aggressive tone. "He is obviously an American. They need to mind their own business."

I simply let the irony wash over me. It is not often that an entire anecdote can be written for me that requires no editing.

There has always been a bit of tension between the majority Canadian population here and the rest of us. National stereotypes are tossed around for laughs. But, as my secretary Jamela was wont to say: "Many a truth is said in jest."

At some point, the tone of the ribbing has taken on a harder edge. Talking with friends, I too often hear "Oh, you know her. She's British." Or French. Or American. Or Canadian. And it is always said with a barb barely hidden. As if a person's nationality always predisposes them to some sort of bad behavior.

It is far too easy to blame it all on Trump. Like George Bush, he is a convenient scapegoat for everything we dislike. And, there is no doubt that his tone has decreased the level of civility in international intercourse.

But that is a juvenile evasion. What seems to escape some people is that I am not Donald Trump. Nor are 327,543,113 other Americans. If you want to gripe about him, be my guest. Griping about our president is the great national pastime.

And, if I feel inclined, I will make fun of Justin Trudeau for dressing his family like extras in a Bollywood spectacular on a state visit to India. An act that would have him expelled from almost any first rate American university for cultural appropriation.

But, I won't. Because I really don't care. It has no bearing on my relationship with individual Canadians.

Expatriate communities are just like any other small community. We either learn how to be civil to one another or we will turn into the social equivalent of Bosnia.

And I will start right now. That is why I did not tell you the home country of the electrical meddler. I will tell you, though, that the adjective "northerner" is a McGuffin.

Now, let's play civilly.

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