I can’t be rude on purpose.
This is a problem.
You see, it’s not that I’m stupid or naive. In fact, I like to think I’m quite the opposite. I often think the absolute worst about everyone until I have reason to believe otherwise. People can be bad, and I do not warm to them easily. In the words of my role model Agent Mulder, and those of my lesser-known role model Catherine Clark, “trust no one.”
I do not trust anyone.
I’m just not good at showing it.
Take, for example, a recent encounter with a panhandler.
“Excuse me there for a second, love,” said the woman as she approached me. “Could I bother you for a pound? Listen, my car broke down and I need to get the bus. I’m pregnant, and it’s too far for me to walk.”
I quietly responded that I didn’t have any money, as I had only just moved here and used everything I had (which was sort of true). I popped my headphones back in before I could hear her response.
My mental response, however, was quite different. It went something like this.
Oh no. If you’re going to interrupt my playlist, you better be dying. Just because I’m the only white person with all her anterior teeth within the city limits doesn’t mean I’m an idiot. That “my car broke down and I’m pregnant-“ heard that one before; we have that in the US too, you know. And by the way, you are NOT pregnant. That ship has long sailed, lady. Oh, and pregnant women can walk. You are an embarrassment.
This thought process is not congruent with the reaction.
This is not dissimilar to a recent encounter with a panhandler in Zagreb.
Nor to the other gazillion panhandlers in Zagreb.
Nor in Columbus.
Although there was panhandler in Columbus that I managed to scare off. He asked if I had any spare change. I said no, but I had some chocolate vaginas and would he like one. He didn’t ask me for money anymore after that.
Anyway, I do not trust people. I assume that when panhandlers ask me for money, they will use it for drugs. When I pass youths on the street, I assume they’re going to mug me.
So you see, the issue is not that I am too trusting. It’s that I’m too polite.
I’m working on trying to rectify this. Really. Sometimes now before I go out I listen to Eminem. Then I practice frowning and puffing out my chest to make myself look bigger and less pleasant. If I had a tail, I’d try puffing that out too.
I find it particularly difficult to be rude when I’m traveling. After all, it’s not my country. Who am I to be rude to the locals?
Before going to dig in Croatia, I stopped in Sarajevo for a few days. I had heard that it was a unique mix of cultures, a meeting point for Eastern and Western Europe.
And it was. Within the same city block there was an Orthodox church, a Catholic church, a Synagogue, and a Mosque.
I had never seen a mosque before. Growing up, everyone was Catholic or Protestant, descendants of either Irish or German or both, and if you were Catholic you were going to Hell said the Protestants. Did you know your dad’s in Hell? Yes, you’ve told me that a thousand times I think.
I stood at the gate of the mosque in the old city center. I couldn’t enter, said the sign on the gate. My legs were showing, sticking out of a skirt that was too long, and my arms and shoulders were exposed in a tank top. My frizzy hair was poking out of a bun in every which way.
I was indecent.
Allah doesn’t like it when your hair’s not covered.
Jesus doesn’t like it when you wear hats in church. Face forward, you aren’t to look behind you. Don’t look at the clock during Mass. Fold your hands like this, now like this. Kneel down. Stand up. Stop hitting your brother. I’m telling Sister Jane. Don’t say His Name.
I peered through the gate and watched all the men, women, and children gather for prayer in a Holy place where I was not welcome.
“Hello,” came a voice from behind me. I turned around and saw a young man about my age, perhaps a year or two older.
What are you doing?
Are we different?
Not much, no.
Where are you from?
Are you afraid of Muslims?
We are a kind and peaceful people.
Are you traveling alone?
That must be lonely.
Are you busy tonight?
Do you want to meet in the city center? We can go for ice cream.
I thought you said you were not afraid.
Then meet me for ice cream.
Why don’t we just go now?
It’s Ramadan. I’m fasting. I’m a good Muslim.
I knew there wouldn’t be ice cream. I’m not stupid. Why did I meet him? To show him that not all Americans were bigots? That we’re not all afraid of Muslims? To apologize?
For being American and existing, duh.
We met on a park bench. It was dark. I could hear the tinkling of the little bells in the memorial for all the children who died in the war.
Should we go for ice cream now?
No, let’s stay here.
I think we should go for ice cream. It’s dark here.
No thank you.
Why not? Won’t you kiss a Muslim?
I don’t want to kiss anyone.
No thank you.
I inched away on the bench. He inched closer.
Please kiss me?
I don’t know you.
He took my face in both his hands and kissed me. I tried to turn away. He had strong hands. His tongue was hot and wet in my mouth. I gagged.
Kiss me back.
No thank you.
Kiss me back.
Come, let’s go to my place. You can meet my mother. Maybe if she likes, we can get married, and I can move to America.
I think I should go. Bye.
Are you sure?
Can I call you?
I don’t have a phone.
Back at the hostel, I took a shower with the water on all the way hot.