If you’re looking at the title of this post and think “Holy shit, that escalated quickly…” yeah, well, life comes at you fast. Heh heh heh. This is how my brain works now. I don’t know as it always did. Probably. I think I had more fucks to give about hiding the fact back in the day.
So anyway, stupid loose thoughts, because I have the privilege to have stupid loose thoughts on such things. I am, so far as I know, pretty white. Had to have some genetic testing for some medical stuff which revealed I probably have more northern Europe and Eurasian background than I imagined (I also have a lot of iron in my blood, and probably other places too. Still anemic… just not from the iron in my red blood cells). Anyway, what I am saying is, aside from being a woman with a mostly invisible on the outside disability, I won the lottery with being white and born where and when I was, with the lovely parents that I have and a family that gives a shit. So while discomfort in some ways is not new to me, in other ways, I know I am so lucky and would be so thrown out of balance if things were different. Say, if I had to flee the country and go where ever would take me…
Case in point: I lived in an area with a lot of new to the States immigrants from Southeast Asia (where I am now has fewer from this area. I miss good pho. I am not a soup person. I miss good pho. Privilege showing: I am put out that if I wanted this, I would have to travel five whole miles… although this can take awhile in the Boston area.) I am very used to hearing a lot of tonal languages spoken around me and not understanding a goddamn word of it, but for “hello” and “thank you.” I know that freaks some people out, but I actually sort of find it comforting. First of all, it helps that I do not look Southeast Asian. No one expects me to understand.
So it was really an interesting experience to go to Chile (and then Rapa Nui/Easter Island) a few years back. We went courtesy of Paul’s dad, who had very much fallen hard for Rapa Nui when he had visited a few years before. (And I can’t blame him for this, and it was really nice of him to take us back with him. It was just so different and beautiful and I am glad that that was his exotic repeat destination of choice). It was interesting because I sort of look like I should speak Spanish (though I apparently look more like I should speak Portuguese… and I would love to visit the Azores but I am afraid people will think I’m an asshole, but then… I have an American passport, and I guess we’re officially there in absolute assholedom all across the world now, huh? Fuck. I hate this.) Anyway, I don’t speak anything but English and halting, scared French (thanks to a shit French teacher in high school who instilled a fear of speaking a foreign language) and a few words in Chinese and Vietnamese.
It was interesting because we ran into things in Santiago that were strangely familiar, but not… Embarrassing to say, but there’s a Dunkin Donuts (what can I fucking say, everyone? Sorry. Okay. Sorry.) and everything is kinda the same, but really, it isn’t. And then there’s just the whole microtransactions in the larger transaction that are just different. How the order is given, with follow up from the cashier, how change is given, handled, counted. Tips. Something that seemed at first glance to be just like everywhere really wasn’t.
And while we do know a teeny bit of Spanish, Paul and I, we don’t know a lot. We do know I speak it with a terribly strong French accent and that we both fuck up and lapse in to French while trying to speak Spanish. The nice thing is everyone was really, really good about being patient. I think people the world over usually are. What was a little freaky was that while I didn’t have any problems at home with people speaking languages I don’t speak around me, it was certainly a little edgier there. And while people say you can find people who can speak English everywhere… yeah, no, not so much. I mean, it’s kinda rude to rely on that totally anyway, but many of the people we ran into even in the city spoke English about the same way we spoke Spanish. This was enough to wander about a bit and not be totally misunderstood, but I wasn’t 100% sure what I was actually saying frequently enough. I don’t believe that my uncertainty wasn’t shared by my Chilean counterparts when they spoke English to us.
It was unsettling, in a good way. I think it’s a good thing to feel that sometimes. I wish it hadn’t been a surprise to me, I feel like it shouldn’t have been, but I do appreciate more how it must feel for those people who travel across the world… because they must, because that’s the only way they’re going to survive… and how brutally… frightening, humbling, tiring it must be. For days, weeks, months, until it doesn’t jar so badly when you see signage with a picture of an item on it and the words next to it are… in a different alphabet. Or even just strangely off from what you’ve seen all your life where you’ve come from. And having no one nearby that can really, deeply, fully answer your questions.
All my respect to people who are in that position… I have only experienced brief snippets in the happiest of situations and it is still fucking hard and scary. Sometimes, though, it’s good to be scared in this way. It’s good to be put in the position of other, because we are all other somewhere. And at its core, humanity has all had shitty French teachers, we’ve all had some fucked up shit happen at a Dunks, we’ve all seen kids ham it up for cameras and everywhere you go, people spray paint penises on traffic signs. Privilege is not having that be the only thing that makes you feel connected. Honor is making those connections.
Life is hard and short, friends. Don’t be shitheads to each other, okay? It isn’t hard.