Tuesday, November 10, 2009

racial assumptions

Yesterday we went out to eat at this new gelato and sandwich place called Al Toque. You could tell that they were new and had just opened because they hadn't quite figured out how much of everything they needed on hand and had to tell us that they were out of the food for three of the meals we ordered. Good times. Once our food got there though it was quite tasty.

While we were waiting for our order, this older white couple came in and was looking at the menu. Our waiter came up to me and said, "Habla español, ¿sí?" "You speak Spanish, right? When I said I did, he asked if I could help the couple who'd just walked in. I agreed, and went over to help translate the menu for them. When I asked in English if they needed help with the menu, the looked at me blankly. I started to ask in Spanish but then remembered that they didn't speak Spanish, which is why I was there in the first place. I tried again in English, slowly, and they responded in broken English with thick accents that sounded Dutch (though that's really just a random guess). Eventually I figured out that they were looking for a bar or someplace to get a drink. I told the waiter they were looking for beer and he said they didn't have any there, so I asked where they did, and he told me the restaurant across the street so that's what I told them. They thanked me and left.

It made me laugh because the waiter assumed that just because these people were white that they spoke English. Heck, that's what I assumed too. It reminds me a little of a story my friend told me while we were still in high school. She was in her biology class and her teacher was talking about the rain forest in Costa Rica. Then she turned to one of the students in the class and said, "Hey, you're from Costa Rica, right?" The student looked really confused and responded that he wasn't, he was from the Philippines. This happened two more times and each time the student was not from Costa Rica, but the Philippines. It seems pretty silly since Costa Rica and the Philippines are two very different places and the people don't even look similar, generally speaking. But people all over make these mistakes all the time. And is it really racist if the only consequences of these assumptions is that you think someone speaks a different language than they do or is from a different part of the world? Things to think about.

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