Saturday, 14 April 2012

Bigotry in the food court.

Food courts in shopping centres are interesting places to see a wide spectrum of humanity.  Today I ate my lunch in one in the Melbourne CBD as I hopped between rehearsals.

It was just after 1pm, so it was busy but not as busy as on a week day.  This particular food court has about a dozen long communal tables. So you just find a space and claim it.  Three women were at one table with seven small children and one of the women started to yell at two other people who were also sitting at the table.

"Don't you tell me to use my manners!  What about your manners?  You might behave like that in your country, but we don't do that here.  Not in Australia. Why don't you go back to where you came from!"

The usually deafening hum of a crowded shopping centre fell to the background as this woman's anger took flight.  I hadn't seen or heard what precipitated her comment and wondered if someone had spat on her.

I was standing by the counter waiting for the food I had ordered when she approached.  I could see that she was still fuming and she met my eye.  There was no need to ask what had happened; she was going to tell me.  Apparently the two people who were already sitting at the table when she arrived with her group of seven children and two other women suggested she should use her manners and ask permission before sitting at the table.

As I mentioned before, these are communal tables and they seat about twelve people.  Tiny children would take up less space, so you could fit more if they all squashed together.  From what I could see the children were better behaved than this woman.  She then gave me the whole speech again, recounting everything that I just heard, including the part about going back to where they came from - which she followed with: "But you can't say that, or you get called a rascist.  Isn't that ridiculous!"

I shrank back.  I've been in this situation before where a random person makes an assumption that I'll be as bigoted as they are.  Sometimes people recognise the shrinking and take their leave.  Today this woman pressed on, asking me if I agreed that it was ridiculous and she should be able to sit anywhere without having to ask permission from some "Asian".  And in her own country too!

I replied by saying I didn't see what the problem was and that I try not to make judgements about people based on where I think they come from.

She looked at me like I was the most disgusting person she had ever encountered in her life.  She snatched her food away from the (Indian) person who handed it to her and approached a group of three women sitting at another table.  She declared very loudly to these women that she was going to use her manners and ask their permission to sit down, even though they clearly weren't Australian.  The three women stood up and moved to another table.  I couldn't blame them.

My food arrived and I took a seat at a communal table as far away from her as possible.

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