A friend of mine wrote this and I think it’s great. They didn’t want to publish it but I cajoled them into it – what do you think?
I had a beautiful, sunny morning in the capital, shopping in the old market for salad leaves and tomatoes, and wanted advice about transport. The Tourist Information Office is right in the centre of town in a handsome building with huge windows, wood panelling and attractively arranged handcrafts and tee-shirts.
There were two young men behind the counter, early-twenties, on the handsome side of average looking with not-quite-beards and smart casual clothes. One had a slighter sharper, more arrogant look. Mr Granite. The other had a kinder element in his face. Mr Queso. There were people standing around and a rope arrangement that should have indicated where to start queuing from, but only served to define a boundary between standing at the counter and not standing at the counter. In fact no one was standing at the counter and both young men were looking at computer screens, avoiding eye contact with anyone.
Reader you will recognise this game. It’s a version of “I’m more important than you think I am” which includes the subtext “and I’m not going to serve you.” I once witnessed a supermarket checkout cashier opening an envelope and placing the letter in full view of all her customers which announced that she had just been awarded a university degree. Touchingly her assertion of achievement and intelligence didn’t seem to interfere with her ability and willingness to do her job.
Meanwhile back in the Tourist Information Office Mr Granite approached Mr Queso and spoke in the local language, clearly indicating the young woman in a short skirt looking at post cards. Mr Queso laughed but had the decency also to blush and look slightly uncomfortable.
One of my favourite games is spot the sexist, and I travel the world looking for evidence of how women are treated in different countries. Irritated now by their arrogance and chauvinism I approached the counter and began asking about the bus and the bicycles. I was told in no uncertain terms that the hire bikes are for citizens only and tourists must hire their bikes from the other tourist office around the corner (he scribbled on a free map in front of him, although I obviously had an identical map in my hand). He then abruptly began talking to a family in the corner, as if some information had suddenly become available on his screen.
While Mr Granite was away I asked Mr Queso whether any women worked here. He said “Yes, usually it is all women, it’s just today we are only two men”. When Mr Granite returned to me he said “I was helping them before” which was gratifying since it implied he noticed my expression of middle-aged irritation. The other thing that was suddenly noticeable was a box of leaflets about bicycles on the counter.
I picked one up and asked “Is this the bicycles you were telling me about?” “No.” He said.”Those are the other bicycles” “The ones that are only for citizens?” “Yes” he said. I was beginning to enjoy the situation. He explained about the buses. I left and came back, and asked Mr Queso if I could by a bus card. Mr Granite intervened and sold me the ticket. I left and returned and asked Mr Queso if they had a phrase book. Mr Granite intervened and gave me a sheet of ‘basic expressions’. At this point some young men with possibly German accents but a similar outlook on life said “We have been queuing before you?” I acknowledged them with a certain amount of pity. They were obviously standing back from the counter queueing in an orderly fashion, not realising that they would possible be there indefinitely. “I’m sorry.” I said. “I did wait the first time – but I have been coming in and out”.
They stared with righteous indignation, and I was thinking “why are you angry with me? – these two guys were obviously more than happy to serve me ahead of you. They’re in charge. Why don’t you take it up with them? Is it because I am a woman, and therefore you consider me less of a threat? Well matie, let me tell you something…..”
And then Mr Queso said “It’s true, she was here before you”. And there you have it. I left with all the information I could possibly have wanted and a very small and completely irrational glow of triumph in my heart.
So, what do you think? Should my friend write more? Let me know in the comments.