Cultural Misunderstandings and Plastic Footwear

 

I grew up in a seriously homogeneous town.

 

All my friends were white, Anglo-Saxon and protestant. It wasn’t like we were excluding people of other races or religious beliefs: there simply weren’t any. OK, I’m exaggerating. There was one Asian family, that ran the town’s only restaurant/gas station/bar. And there was one half Chinese kid in my class. (I made him be my boyfriend in Grade One. The shortest boy and tallest girl in class. We still don’t know why we couldn’t work that one out.) And when I was a bit older, one family adopted a bunch of kids of unknown origin. But, for the most part, there weren’t nobody but us rednecks.

 

I made it out, alive. And relatively prejudice free. A childhood without any diversity still took its toll. I left my little town only vaguely aware of any other cultures, any way of life but mine. I got better. But I’m left with this deep seated terror that I will offend someone, that my intense nervousness is going to make me say The Wrong Thing.  And now that I have kids, I am absolutely convinced one of them is going to say The Wrong Thing.

 

There was a new family at our local park today. A Hasidic Jewish family. Their 3 kids and my 2 played easily and immediately. They compared toys, bikes, ways of going down the slide. I realized that I was digging my fingernails into my palms, waiting. Waiting for my son to ask the little boy (who sported a blue velvet yarmulke) why he was wearing a toque in June. Waiting for my daughter to reach out for the mom’s headscarf and yank it off. But it didn’t happen. They just played.

 

Until my daughter noticed the mom’s footwear. My daughter’s prized possessions are her pink Crocs.

If there were a fire, and she could save me or the shoes, she’d be sitting on the sidewalk admiring her feet, guilt free, while I roasted. And Hasidic mom was wearing Crocs too. Baby girl was ecstatic, and started jumping up and down, pointing to the woman’s shoes. The only problem is, my daughter is 2. So her English is not great. She’s even a little behind, verbally for her age. So in her excitement, she was yelling, over and over, pointing at the woman,

 

“Jews! Jews! Jews!”

 

Oh. Fuck.

 

I opened my mouth, frantically trying to explain what baby girl was actually trying to say. But I just couldn’t get whole words out.

 

“Sh…but she’s only…sorr…I’m jus…”

 

The woman knew exactly what I was trying to say. She gave me this look, that I interpreted to mean, “I’m Jewish, not slow, lady. Relax.”

 

We both laughed.

 

Then we talked about the upcoming football season, the wicked storm last night, and the way you’re so much more careful with your first kid than you are with subsequent kids, and whether that messes them up.

 

I need to chill.

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19 responses to “Cultural Misunderstandings and Plastic Footwear

  1. Oh Ginny, my dogs used to embarrass the hell out of me. I’d pack them in the car to go get the kids from school and they’d be all hanging out the windows lapping up the breeze until they saw any black person. They’d bark at them ferociously.

  2. I on the other hand probably offend all the time, not giving it a thought or even realizing it. I come from a very racially and culturally diverse family. We have our own rainbow coalition going on. One of my mom’s more notable quotes is “I’m not prejudice, I even have a little white boy” while patting me on the head. 🙂

  3. Kitty: Oh man! At least you can shush a kid, then tell them later what they did wrong. But dogs….

    Peter: I think I would like your mom. 🙂

  4. This was my major laugh of the day! Thanks . . .

  5. LMAO @ her response! Classic!

  6. tysdaddy: I am glad my intense awkwardness is good for something 🙂

    Maria: Well, that may not have been exactly what she was thinking, but… Thank god it ended well.

  7. My little boy says “chink” for “drink.” My dear wife and I think it’s cute and imitate him all the time. “Chink it. Chink it.”

    Then we went out for dinner to the Wok and Roll. We gave the waitress a rather large tip that night.

    M

  8. I don’t know which made me laugh harder, Michael: Your son’s words, or the name of the restaurant. Either way, thanks for the laughs!

  9. Hi Ginny – kids are so honest – so even if they ask a question that might seem embaressing to you – it generally isn’t to the person that they are addressing. People don’t mind talking about their culture. I am sure that the Jewish lady would have been very happy to explain things to her. That’s how they learn.

    You or the crocs …. well, it seems like you have definately lost out …. haha

  10. Great story and very well written.

  11. My best friend’s son used to say all “–uck” wrong and LOUDLY in public. As in, “I wanna big fuck, mommy!” at Toys R Us loudly. Try explaining that one to CPS.

    In a few decades, imagine the pride you’ll have watching her explain her firstborn’s unfprtuante pronounciation away. 😉

  12. Wendz: Yeah, like I said, I need to chill. 😉

    FormerlyFun: Why thank you ::curtsies::

    Loveyh: Revenge. Isn’t that REALLY why any of us reproduce?

  13. I’ve always called my hometown “the land of white bread and bologna” for just the same reasons.

    Then my (now) ex-husband joined the military and life got a whole lot more diverse than it had been. My oldest son used to cry bloody murder whenever my friend Michelle came over. I would fuss and fret and try to excuse it and she would tell me, “Relax, he’s just crying because I’m so damn dark,” and then she’d laugh.

  14. “the land of white bread and bologna”? We would have dismissed the bologna, as it sounded exotic, kind of Italian (which, of course, we would have pronounced EYE-talian)

  15. Classic.

    Crocs are the root of all evil on the planet though.

  16. My first thought on reading this: Ginny, you’re so cute.

    Totally same upbringing. And I once found myself in a Toronto taxi cab explaining to the black driver why I’ve never dated any black men….

  17. Xbox: I think there are varying degrees of evil, according to the wearer. For example:
    Crocs on small children: Having 15 items in your cart in the “10 items or less” aisle at the supermarket – kind of evil.
    Crocs on women: Sleeping around on your spouse while they’re in a coma – kind of evil.
    Crocs on men: Hitler called; he likes your style – kind of evil.

    Tara: And if you’re like me, you over-tipped him, as thanks for making you feel uncomfortable.

  18. It’s certainly a rarity for there to be certain minorities in parts of Saskatchewan, yet children don’t really see race or colour until they are taught those concepts. Until then, people are just people.

  19. I didn’t actually grow up in SK, but it was the same way where I lived. And I agree with you, 100%: kids come out pretty much perfect, then us adults get in there and muck things up.

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