Friday, September 26, 2008

French, please.

It is interesting to note that people from all over the world have such different cultures and values in which they hold so strongly to. The story I am about to tell happened to me not too long ago, during my 6 month stay in the US.

It was the end of the term and I had about a month to travel around before I headed back home. So a friend and I decided to make a trip up to Canada to see the Niagra falls as well as other major cities like Toronto and Montreal. When we first arrived in Montreal, I chanced upon a quaint little shop that sold souvenirs and other intricately-designed items so without hesitation, I dragged my friend inside to take a look. I came across a small vase which I really liked but there was no price tagged on it. With the vase in my hand, I took it to the lady at the counter and asked:

"Excuse me, how much is this?"

"Vous parlez fran├žais?" the lady replied with a frown on her face. Not understanding what she was saying, I hesitated a little before answering:

"Sorry, could you.." Before I could continue, the lady interrupted me, this time sounding a little more frustrated.

"Vous parlez fran├žais? No English, French only!" She rolled her eyes after saying that.

I stared at her in disbelief and was a little outraged by the way she treated a tourist. Afterall, I was going to buy something from her shop! Shouldn't she be a little bit nicer? What struck me most was that the English she spoke sounded entirely perfect! My friend, upon seeing the commotion came up to us. Thank God he knew French, and he asked the lady for the price on my behalf. Being already turned off by the lady's attitude, I managed a weak smile, put the vase back and walked out of the shop. My friend then told me that the people of Montreal, even though knowing English, only hold French as their common language for communication because they were once a French colony. I was surprised and I blamed myself for not doing my homework.

So I thought the rest of my stay in Montreal would be smooth-sailing until one day later, I witnessed a blatant racial discrimination. My friend and I wanted to take a bus to somewhere in the city. As we were walking to the bus stop, we saw that our bus was just about to leave! Panicking, my friend dashed as fast as he could to try and stop the bus, while I on the other hand tried to catch up with him.

Then, the most unbelievable thing happened: The bus driver, on seeing 2 Chinese people running after the bus, stopped the bus after driving for a distance and opened the front door. But the minute my friend caught up with the bus and stood by the door waiting for me to catch up, the driver stared at my friend, closed the door, and drove off! My friend stood by the roadside, dumbfounded and we both didn't know to laugh or to cry.. We found out later on from friends living in Canada that the only reason why the driver did that, was because we were Chinese.

So there you go. The first time in my life I was being racially discriminated. And it didn't feel good.

Moral of the story: Do not go to Montreal. Ok I'm kidding!
Real Moral of the story: We should always do our homework each time we know we will be facing people of different cultures. Intercultural behaviour if not handled properly, might result in conflicts and arguments or may even create a mindset that will condemn that particular culture. This is especially so when we are travelling abroad and interacting with people of different races. Sometimes, it is hard to pinpoint who is to blame for people behaving the way they do. The best way would just be, to take everything with a pinch of salt and embrace every experience!


Brad Blackstone said...

Excellent post, Tiffany. I always say the everyone, each person in every place, should have the chance to be treated as a minority group member at least once once in their life, and if they can experience racism firsthand, so much the better. Why do you suppose I say that?

Lyon said...

Oh that was quite an experience! I think I have to prepare myself for some of those when I am at US! If I were you, I would have been really really pissed! Moral of the story: racism can be anywhere, even in a seemingly cultured and civilised city like Montreal. It's funny how with all the education we received, our hearts still rule over the heads on issues like racism etc.

I guess Brad was trying to say that when we experience racism firsthand, we would know how it feels like to be the one being prejudiced against and with that, hopefully we can prevent ourselves from subconsciously being another racist jerk (: You would realise how unjustified racism is, being based on nothing which can be explained with reasons and logics.

Tiffany said...

Hi Brad,

I suppose we have to experience racism or being treated as a minority group firsthand in order to truly understand the feeling, for hope that in the future, we will become more aware and thus avoid giving racist remarks. No one likes to be treated with discrimination and therefore we have to keep in mind that each time we want to make a racist remark, think about how it would make others feel; just like how it made you feel.

Do unto others what we want others to do unto us. Living by this, we can definitely do our part to prevent any form of discrimination among social groups.

Tiffany said...

Hi Lyon,

Thanks for your comment! I really liked what you said about how issues of racism still rule our heads despite the education that we've had. I guess this goes to show that there is a possibility that a person with little education could well be more "civilised" and "unracist" than a person who is very educated. How ironic!

I think in Singapore, despite the stress on racial harmony and us being a multi-racial society, many are still locked in their own racist world. How many times have we come across racist jokes that still thrive within our society?

Moral of the story: Racism is something that is difficult to control and inevitable in every society.

Hui Xuan said...

Hey Tiffany,

It must have felt terrible. I have heard many of these stories from my teachers too. One of my teachers told me that even in Australia, he faced the same problem just because he is a Chinese. I have not personally experienced being discriminated as a Chinese before but, I have been discriminated before. Hence, I can understand the feeling. It is really a horrible feeling.

You mention that “Racism is something that is difficult to control and inevitable in every society.” I guess this can be applied to discrimination of all sorts and not only towards races.

Tiffany said...

Hi Hui Xuan,

Yes it did feel horrible! What I heard from friends, parents and relatives were that Australia, UK, Canada and certain parts of Europe really really dislike Chinese people. They call us yellow-skinned, small-eyed people. It kinda makes us sound like some alienated creature, as if were are not humans living on the same planet.

Yes, I agree with you. Racism and all other forms of discrimination are inherent in every society and I doubt that it would be possible to totally eradicate this from every society. Correct me if i'm wrong on this!

Angeline said...

Hi Tiffany,

Interesting post! Indeed, racism can be anywhere and happen to anyone. I feel that racism is a form of opinion that can be built up very easily, as long as one don't agree with another's skin colour, language, religion and behaviour. Luckily, I didn't really experience any form of racism while I was in Germany! The people there, though some do not know English, were very sincere in helping us find our way whenever we ask for directions.

I have another example of racism. I have a friend who is currently studying in Australia and one day he told me, "I fought with a few Australians that day." I'm like, "OH MY GOD!Why are you so daring?!" He said that they picked on him as he is a Chinese so he had to defend himself. Though I do not agree with using violence, I do agree that there should be some form of defense in such cases of racism. It is quite scary, considering we seldom/never see people fight in public in Singapore, right?

Hui Xuan said...

Hi Tiffany,

I totally agree with you. I think it is not possible to totally eradicate discrimination. I guess we can only reduce the extend of discrimination.

Brad Blackstone said...

Thanks for your response(s), Tiffany. This is a fruitful discussion!

"Do unto others what we want others to do unto us."

There you have it!