The grass is always greener.
Sure, it looks all picturesque and ecofriendly on the outside, but, what’s it really like on the inside?
‘Ni hao,’ the stone-faced teenager spat, as he and another boy walked past me up the narrow stairwell.
It was the first racist comment I had heard all day, after a long day at work, and I was in the stairwell of my own apartment building.
I had ignored all of it the past several weeks; but something about this moment, in particular, stopped me in my tracks. The two boys were already long gone, as I stood there, registering what had just happened, processing the dirty remark. And, instinctively, every possible comeback I could arm myself with.
I grew up with an older brother; my instinct is to fight back, explode with indignation; get confrontational. And then, I began to unravel the reasons why this boy, in this city, was ignorant of other cultures. Uncovering the wherewithal, by personal and public education, in this city, that has produced such a boy. It doesn’t make it any more acceptable, innocent, or less caustic for someone to hear. It is still and always abrasive to witness and resonates in only an insulting and pitiful manner; I feel sorry for him.
Don’t get me wrong – I still wanted to punch him in the face. Does that make me immature? Or does it make me immature to admit it out loud? I wonder.
Barcelona is not quite the thriving cosmopolis of cultural diversity and liberalism that other international destinations stand so solidly upon.
I know, I know – the best thing to do is to just ignore it. But just because you ignore it doesn’t mean you don’t hear it, that you’re immune to it, that you have no emotional reaction to your surroundings; it doesn’t erase the fact that it happened.
I get stares while riding the metro, the bus, while walking down the street. Shouts of ‘ni hao’ in various areas of El Raval, Barri Gotic, etc. I think it felt a bit more corrosive within the walls of my own apartment building; this was not outside, on the street, among strangers; this was when I was just about to enter my own home.
Sure, I’m a foreigner – I’m an American, but you wouldn’t know it judging by the ignorant comments getting tossed my way.
I’m not even Chinese. I’m American. Korean-American. Yeah, that’s right. Us Americans. We love our hyphenated, politically correct ways. We wouldn’t call a chocolate covered cookie an ethnicity. Surely not.
And if I was Chinese? Would I start busting out the Mandarin and be utterly delighted to converse with someone in the tongue of my ethnic heritage? Wouldn’t I expect the boy not to understand a word I was saying other than the cheap ‘ni hao’ he had tossed out?
Caucasians, no matter where they’re from, I feel, will never know this. Okay, okay – maybe if they’re in China? But do Chinese people spit out disparaging racial slurs at them? Please, do tell.
The older I get, the more I realize I don’t want to take other people’s bullshit. There’s a reason why I won’t go clubbing with my awesome friend Fowzia; I hate standing in line in front of empty, pretentious LA clubs; I love her to death, but it’s a waste of precious time – and that’s just it. Time is too damn precious.
Ah, but life goes on. Try to be positive, get immersed into Spanish – er, Catalan – culture. You sample some amazing churros, you hop on the metro before it turns into a pumpkin; you end up buying purses you weren’t supposed to buy. (Marc Jacobs=gateway drug.) You can learn from a culture that truly knows how to enjoy life – take two hours for lunch, eat dinner around 10:30pm and go out for a few hours and then go to work the next day – but, no worries, no need to rush to the office, no one else will be rushing.
But, on the other hand, start talking economics; business efficiency, unemployment, and job salaries, and you’ve got a natural disaster on your hands. Not to mention the glaring inefficiencies in my own apartment. Don’t get me started.
Get real. You gotta take the good with the bad – which, is annoyingly redolent of another life transition everyone might already know. But, generally, I like to make sure the positives outweigh the negatives; that I end on a good note.