Racism International Inc

How is Mexico better than the UK, asked no one ever. Well, there’s the weather. And the food. And the chicas. And the friendly faces. And especially the weather. And the fresh fruits. And the racists, too. Let’s big it up for the Mexican racists. They don’t, quite frankly, get the credit that they deserve. How so are Mexican racists better than UK racists, you might wonder. Well, I have no scientific proof, empirical evidence or hearsay to offer. Just personal experience.

I have been the ‘victim’ of racial abuse twice. The most recent episode happened just a couple of hundred metres from home, a week or so ago. I had seen the chap loitering about Westbourne, earlier. White, shaven headed, casual attire, chunky set of headphones stuck on his head. He looked a bit spaced out. Looks can be deceiving. Our conversation was more than simply ‘spaced out’.

Are you English?

Errr…(wondering where this is going)..yes.

No, you’re not.

I’m pretty sure I am.

No you’re f*****g not, are you!

Ok. But actually I am.

There was a strange pause. Where does the conversation go from here? I shrugged and decided to let him finish it with himself, and carried on walking. A moment later I heard him launch into a tirade of colourful language, with the gist being that I should go home to my own country. It was utterly surreal. For those who might be passing this way for the first time, I should qualify, or rather disqualify, his ham fisted attempt at racial profiling. I am white, 6 foot tall, blue/grey eyes, fair haired and when my skin does have any colour to it, after a little too much sun, you would most definitely associate the tone with English Lobster Red. I was born in London to parents born in London to grandparent born in London and so on. I have an unmistakeably English accent.

How did my racist friend get it so wrong? One can only assume that he’d made up his mind that I was a Polish or other European immigrant and felt it unnecessary to remove those bulky headphones in order to confirm his initial prejudice by actually listening to my responses. In the industry of racial ignorance and hatred, the bar for membership is already set pretty low. This guy dropped it on the floor. Dang, he buried it.

Once upon a time in Mexico, I was asked by a homeless chap for some pesos. I had none. After I had walked a safe distance past he started yelling. ‘Pinch ingles!!’ Over and over. Well, at least three times. Was I offended? No, I was thoroughly impressed. He had managed to identify my nationality correctly, and had not gone for the more likely and obvious Yankee critique. See, Mexican racists are better than British racists. They’re smarter, more thoughtful and more considerate. One nil to Mexico.

Racial prejudice is alive and well, everywhere. Sometimes it’s overt. Often it’s disguised by those who attempt to disguise their prejudice as ‘refreshing candor’. You know the sort. The sentence starts with, ‘I’m not racist, but…‘. And then there are those who are simply unthinkingly ignorant. The latter bunch are not necessarily a bad sort. Just poorly informed, or maybe inclined to speak then think, or perhaps just expressing negative experiences of their own.

The ethnic demographic did change noticeably during my time in Mexico. There are now tons of Polish people in the UK. I like them. They are easy to spot. They are the guys who are usually working that bit harder than the others. My racist friend should take note of that when next choosing a recipient for his ignorance. And amend his spiel – go back and work hard and be productive in your own country while I despoil the local environment and waste perfectly good air by my continuing refusal to cease breathing. Personally, I think we could do with a few more Poles and a few less Brits.

There is a downside to all this immigration though. I thought upon returning to England that I’d be safe to use my real name again when out and about.  Hugh Juan could be retired. Alas, it was not to pass. This was a better attempt that some, but it’s not the right spelling. And I do hope Mrs P didn’t notice her new name…

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Name And Shame

I like Starbucks. I’ve mentioned that before. They are one of the few mega chains to have successfully implemented the much sought after ‘personal touch’. You know, from the days before the mega supermarkets. When you popped into ten different little stores on the high street, and was greeted by the owner, your amigo. Who was always friendly, knew his stuff and served you just right. Of course, I’m referring to the stores on shows like The Wonder Years, or the Waltons. In real life, store owners were just as likely to be miserable old gits as they were to be friendly.

Take my visit to Starbucks yesterday as the perfect example. I ordered a Frappucino, but their machine was out of order or something. They were very apologetic, and I ordered a latte instead, sat down and drank it. Just as I was about to leave, one of the staff came up to my table. Their machine was working again. Here was the Frappucino I had ordered. Gratis. That’s the ‘personal touch’ I like.

But there was one little problem with their attentiveness. They always ask your name, and write it on the cup. The quizzical looks I’ve been givien upon telling them my name, the weird crap I’ve had written on my cups and the mad names I’ve been called over the years….just leave the cup blank, dudes! Sometimes they do just that. My name is pretty simple. Just two syllables. Yesterday I was Karal. Do I look Polish? Or did I wander in to the store in a slightly effeminate way? Sort of like a Carol would?

I can’t entirely blame them though. There is no Mexican version of Gary. And my weird British accent can’t help matters. It would be okay if I was a  John, Paul, George or…well maybe Ringo wouldn’t be ideal. But Juan, Paulo and Jorge are all easily taken in. Ricardo, Alfredo and Carlos would all be equally acceptable if I was a Richard, Alf or Charles. I could even be Adolpho, although to be honest Adolf hasn’t ever had much appeal as a name in the UK. Since 1939 in particular. A renaissance isn’t expected any time soon. It’s a matter of taste, I guess. Although, as ever, there are always those with no taste.

But anyway, I do need a new name. A ‘Mexico Friendly’ name. Gary just isn’t working out for me. With a lot of names, you can just add an ‘o’ (or an ‘a’ if you’re of the fairer sex) and bingo – you’re all done. But Garyo doesn’t sound any better to me. It is close to Mario. But I don’t think I’m a Mario. I quite liked the name Garrapata that Paola used to affectionately call me. Till I discovered that a garrapata is a tick that dogs get in their ears.

Another obvious option is Garibaldi, after t. Col. José Garibaldi, a famous Mexican military commander, and an even more famous plaza in Mexico City where the mariachis hang out. But then there are also these. And it wouldn’t be a new name for me anyway. There have been friends who’ve called me Garibaldi since my hair started receding.

I do like the ring that Gacho has to it though. I could be a Señor Gacho. If I’m trying to impress, I could even be Macho Gacho. Sounds cool to me. Unfortunately, the word gacho is, apparently, far from complimentary. It’s a sort of combination of a few derogatory terms. So much as I like it, I think I have to rule Gacho out. Not least because the Starbucks staff might think I’m speaking to them, not simply telling them my name. I don’t want to offend. So maybe I’ll just have to soldier on with Gary, unless someone has a better name that fits. I’m just not  Mario, Garibaldi, Gacho or Garrapata material. But most of all, I am definitely not a Carol.

Starbucks

Gloabalisation gets a bad press these days. Starbucks too. The joke goes that they’ll put one anywhere they can buy land…even in a car park. Even in a Starbucks car park. But I like Starbucks. In fact, even though more fashionable coffee shop chains are now about and doing business in Mexico City, the Italian Coffee Company for example, I still prefer Starbucks. They changed the way I drink my coffee when I’m out, and for the better.

When I go into a Starbucks, I know exactly what I’m going to get. A Cafe Latte that will taste the same as the last time I drank one. And taste good too. A nice brownie or cake. And most importantly of all, a comfy armchair to sit in, with a table that is just the right height in front of me. Free Wi Fi. A copy of the days paper. The decor is dark, but warm and cosy. It’s also reasonably muted. You can recognize it instantly, but it doesn’t have the lights and glare of a McDonalds that overpowers the neighbourhood. It just fits in. They have music too, but it’s soft and pleasant. Loud enough to give a little atmosphere, quiet enough for conversation without raising your voice.

And whilst it’s true that when you’re in a Starbucks you could be anywhere in the world, I like that. Maybe I want to pretend I’m in the Strabucks round the corner from the British Museum in London today. Or in Milwaukee. Or New York. Today I had a Big Apple Pie (oooh, another bonus – English words!) with my latte, in a Starbucks on Reforma. I drank my coffee in comfort, and watched the world go by. Why so many people hate Starbucks is beyond me.