I had an incident last week where I got asked for directions in Chinese. Again. Notorious for my lack of navigational skills I am always quite surprised that anyone would ask me those kind of questions anyway. Still I was in town yesterday when a gentleman came up to me.
To set the scene, I was in an unhappy mood: I had just braved the strike to go and interview for an unpaid internship. That is right ladies and gentleman, this is what we have resorted to. Unfortunately it was an opportunity for glorified data entry and as much I could do this, I would rather get paid for it. So as my new motto in life is: make money or write, preferably both – I realised that this was neither. Secondly I have to clarify that the gentleman coming up to me was Oriental or whatever is PC now South East Asian looking. He came to me at the crossing and asked me in English whether I could tell him where Warren Street was and the Embassy.
So trying to get my bearings I concluded that Tottenham Court Road was straight ahead and he should go into that direction and right. I think. Then he asked me if I could tell him where the Embassy was, to which I asked: which Embassy? He looked at me as if I had just told him I was Dutch. The Chinese Embassy of course. No sorry, I was not sure where that was. He looked at me suspiciously and then walked away without a word of thanks, still looking at me as if not quite believing me… As if I would know where the Chinese Embassy was and keep this information from him, just to spite him! Perhaps I could have guessed, but for all I know he could have been Korean or something…One wouldn’t want to assume right? (Not that I would know where the Korean Embassy is – not the point I am making my clever reader.)
I just find it surprising that in such a multi-cultural city as London people still assume you are from a certain place in the world. (Walk into a random corner shop and the first question, if they speak to you that is, is ” Where are you from?”. Having said that perhaps it is because it is such a melting pot that people want to know, no one in London is actually from London. )
I was still thinking about this and was getting a little upset about my morning, which wasn’t helped by the English bus driver who stopped the bus and shouted at me in slow pidgin English that ” Oy, the bus. is. finish.here.” (You know what, that doesn’t even make sense!) Blood boiling now, I started walking to my sister’s.
Half way down the road was an older lady with a baby in a pram, she looked lost and her face lit up when she saw me. Great… if only she knew. Luckily, when she approached me she was holding a small London A to Z. She apologised for her English and tried to make clear on the map where she needed to be…in Russian. So trying to identify where we were on the tiiiiiny street map, I tried to speak slowly ( in normal English I may add!) and direct her to where she needed to be. She followed and repeated in Russian, whilst tracing the route on the map with her finger. Suddenly she smiled, said a very clear Thank you and we parted.
It was only at the end of the road that I realised I was smiling too.