Rude Awakening

The part of Melita Street, in Valletta, between Republic Street and Strait Street is not the best of streets to negotiate, because of its gradient, on a good day. So with only a narrow passage and an aura of dust in the air, it is even less attractive.

I needed some things from the pet shop, so I made my way down the narrow path allowed to pedestrians. Coming out of the shop, on my way to Toni the Cobbler’s, I looked up because I heard a commotion.

There was a bottle-blonde lady, dressed in the tightest black clothes she could find (any tighter and she would have exploded), surrounded by a bevy of about 20 female dressed-to-kill followers and waving a file around as if to make sure no one invades her personal space. She was pontificating that they “had” to pass from there (where I was, pointing at me) because to add a stretch of Strait Street would make them late.

So she made a shooing motion with her hand at me, saying “Move back, move back, we have to pass quickly…” assuming that she would thus intimidate me into obedience, if not actual obeisance.

This when I was only a few inches away from the edge of the netting – that is, about five seconds away from leaving the way clear for them. I would not have done so, of course, even if she had said ‘please’. And her jaw actually dropped – apparently she is not used to having people ‘disobey’ her.

Alas, people who have some sort of authority often enough do not how to use it properly. They wield it like an axe rather than using it as a feather to stoke the good intentions of their followers.

But this attitude is not only the prerogative of short, fat, blondes with acolytes and places to go.

Take the assistants of clothes shops (I refuse to call some of them boutiques). One “name” place was offering a reduction on tops and jeans. So I walked in, picked a couple of either for my daughter, and walked up to the cash desk to pay for them. “These will never fit you!” the stick-insect assistant said. “Of course you’re right; so you may as well keep them,” I said, turning on my heels and walking out of the shop.

In another shop, my friend was treated even worse. She’s a lovely, fashionable young lady with great taste, and while it would be stretching a point to call her thin, she is quite lean. She was looking for summer dresses displayed on hangers along a rack. She felt a tap on her shoulder, and the salesgirl was speaking to her, face turned towards the direction her other had was pointing.

“Clothes for fat people are on that side…” she said. And I don’t blame my friend for walking out there and then.

Not all rudeness comes with words. Some of it is implied in actions. Take a shopkeeper who has lost a lot of customers because she thinks she’s doing a favour to people who shop at her outlet.

One day, I needed just a couple of things, and presented a €20 to pay for them. “Oh, no,” she said, “give me the exact change as you’d take all my coins otherwise.” So I upturned my purse on the counter, and began choosing coins to make the exact amount. She actually pushed my fingers away and began counting them out herself – there were no other customers in the shop, so there wasn’t anyone else who needed the space for purchases. Needless to say, that is the last time I bought anything from her.

Then there are the left-handed compliments that are meant as insults. “You daughter is really pretty; but she looks like you!” my friend was told. In fact, her daughter is the spitting image of her husband, down to asymmetrical eyebrows and a gap between the front teeth.

There are the experts who, in their enthusiasm to show how true it is that they know it all and then some, will not hesitate to hurt a person. An example of this is an after-dinner conversation in which people were talking about siblings. This particular incident happened just weeks after my only sister had died – and perhaps that is why it hurt so much.

It was a meal between friends, and someone said it was awful to have to share a bedroom and a bathroom. I said “I wish I still could…” and this person turned to me and said “What do you know, you only ever had one sister, I have four…”

I have always tried to make “Do As You Would Be Done By” my motto. I hope others would give it a passing nod, too, sometimes, when they are tempted to be rude to the rest of us.

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