March 10, 2007

Random acts

Tiny, even very tiny, acts of kindness and consideration grab you.

In the Ocracoke restaurant called Pony Island, I finish my lunch as they are closing for the afternoon. Young woman who served me, she's mopping a section of the floor. I get up from my table, to see if I can find a toilet. Turns out it is across the section of floor she is at work on. I'm about to step on it when she notices and stops me.

"This is slippery stuff I'm using!" she exclaims. She looks at the Hi-Tec boots I'm wearing and shakes her head. "My shoes, they won't slip. But those ..."; she leaves unsaid, but very clear, what will happen.

Then she reaches out her hand, grabs mine firmly and gently escorts me across, all the way to the door of the toilet.

"Thanks," I say.

Two weeks ago, I was in a tiny Kentucky town where no signal reached the cellphone I'm carrying. I needed to make an urgent call, so I drove around looking for a public phone. None of those to be found, and I also began running low on fuel. Stopped to fill up at a small station-cum-convenience store, went in to pay.

Teenage girl behind the counter. After paying, I ask: "Do you have a pay phone here? I need to make a call and my cell has no signal."

She says: "I'm new here, so I don't know. But let me go ask my manager."

She's back in ten seconds, holding out a cellphone. "Here's mine," she says. "It has a signal. Go ahead, make your call."

I protest. Smile across her face, she insists.

8 comments:

BongoPondit said...

As per my own experiences, such acts are not uncommon in the southern states of US - more so than in New York or California.

Most people are extremely polite and helpful, even if they are thinking if behind that brown skin of yours, there is terrorist lurking !!

I find this dichotomy between the famed southern hospitality and racism quite intriguing.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Actually BP, I'm intrigued: how do you know that most people are thinking that "behind that brown skin of yours, there is terrorist lurking"?

In my travels here for weeks now, and earlier as well, I've never got this sense from anyone. So I'd love to know about this "racism" and "dichotomy" you're talking about.

bongopondit said...

Dilip: sorry, should have been clearer - I am not saying everyone is thinking that while they are interacting with you.

Some of the racist sentiments come out through other actions/statements that I read about in the papers or hear on the news etc. e.g . the Western Carolina mountains and forests are hideouts for certain white militias - it was the hide out for the Atlanta Olympic and abortion clinic bomber and they say he had help from the local people. So you would think they might be a bit hostile to someone with a brown skin. However, in my few travels in the region, the people could not have been nicer.

Also, the dichotomy stems from the fact that such nice and polite people were actively involved in discrimination just 30-40 years ago.

Perhaps it is an overreaction of mine that I find racism in every corner.

Peter Kelly said...

This guy is amazing. "Such acts are not uncommon", he sez. "Most people are extremely polite and helpful", he sez. But then he sez, "I find racism in every corner."

I meet plenny of Indians where I live (Tupelo, MS, area). They are helpful and friendly folks, I enjoy hanging out with them. Are they, like this guy, thinking that I'm racist just for being friendly back? Should I, like this guy, think they are racist because they are friendly?

Came to your blog via a search for things Ocracoke, because Im going there soon. enjoyed your accounts thanks!

Peter Kelly

Dilip D'Souza said...

BP, I still don't understand. If the Western Carolina mountains are hideouts for a few nutcase militia types, why should that reflect on other people from Carolina, or elsewhere -- to the extent that you say "you would think they might be a bit hostile to someone with a brown skin"?

Peter, you're welcome. Hope you enjoy Ocracoke, it's a fabulous place!

Rekha Pawar said...

I am surprised and disappointed by bongopundit's comments too!! Its the worst kind of thoughtless stereotyping possible. Worse of all, its obvious from his own words -- he thinks they are very polite and nice, but they are also racist. first he says most people are thinking you are a terrorist, then he says not everyone is thinking that, Then he says he finds racism everywhere.

I have lived in the states thirteen years, mostly in "southern" states, the most disappointing moemnts for me have been running into attitudes in some indians, like bongopundits' words.

thanks,
Rekha

Jai_Choorakkot said...

No experience with South US. But mindsets could have a lot to do with it.

On my first trip to the US, alone, I had to commute by bus from a usually deserted bus stop. Good proportion of desis in Sili. valley, but I nervously tried to avoid speaking as far as possible to non-desis to avoid being recognized by them as a non-local.

Met a construction crew at the bus stop one morn, a black guy and a white. Both greeted me verbally. I just nodded back and had a weak smile, sending a stay-away signal.

The white guy was pretty Ok and turned back to his work. The black guy gave me a dirty look that seemed to imply I was being racist in not talking to him. It looked like my defence mech. mapped into something else for him.

2. " such nice and polite people were actively involved in discrimination just 30-40 years ago "

I have also wondered abt that. Unlike what BP seems to be saying I think this implies that a large proportion of the ppl there, maybe the majority, were already very uncomfortable with that discrimination. The collapse when it came was hence pretty quick.

regards,
Jai

Jai_Choorakkot said...

Please use your own ids, eveyrone.

When I (the real Jai) travelled in the States, I found that if I was suspicious of locals, they would react to me similarly. But if I was open to conversation and greetings, it would be much better.

i think racism comes from that.

regards,
Jai