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How to Ruin My Good Mood in 2 Seconds Flat

7 August 2007

I finished two projects this morning, for the same outfit. I had enough time to drive into town, drop them off at the UPS store, and get back before the girls got out of horse camp (Their aunt’s birthday gift to each of them: one week of horse camp. Hmmm. That lady’s sneaky!). I went in singing along with the radio. I was in a Very Good Mood. Things got a bit complicated at the UPS store. See, whereas at a FedEx store, you can drop off a package with a third-party’s account number for the billing, at a UPS store, you can’t. They won’t bill third-party, even if the account number is a UPS account number. Oh well, I didn’t let it get me down, I just took my parcel and headed to the FedEx store just down the street. (I usually use a FedEx account with this client, but they prefer [not require] us to use UPS in New England.) Sang a bit more to the radio, parked, got out of the car, started whistling (I tell you, I was in a good mood), walked into the FedEx store, and told the guy behind the counter that I was soooo happy that FedEx store policy is a bit more reasonable than UPS store policy.

“Yeah,” the guy replied. “What I hear all the time about that UPS store is, ‘That man is very nice, but I just can’t understand a word he says!’”

BANG!

That was my mood dropping.

Sure, the man at the UPS store had an accent. Sure, his skin tone made it clear he was an immigrant. But that had nothing whatsoever to do with my complaint with UPS stores.

I recall several times, growing up, when jackass American idiots made my parents’ lives difficult because of their accent (a particularly rude incident at the Ringling Bros. circus ticket window is still fresh in my mind). The Consort jokes that when he was a kid he had no idea his dad had an accent and was confused when a schoolyard friend called it such!

Over the years, fewer and fewer people have had difficulty understanding my parents. Some of it is certainly due to my parents’ English getting better (but it was pretty damn good even then). Some of it is due to more Americans seeing themselves as part of a world community (I suppose that’s one positive result of globalization).

The past three weeks here in New Hampshire have reminded me, however, that insular thinking isn’t wiped out yet. (“I have nothing against Muslims, but…” “ I never understood the talk about lazy Hispanics until…” “I just don’t understand what he says…”) It has also made me realize that in seven years in Iowa, I have never heard such ugly talk, either in the cities or in the countryside.

Today I was so surprised at seeing this ugliness again, I didn’t say anything (plus, this man was responsible for getting my package to the client; I become a wimp in cases like that). He must have noticed something was up, because my answers became monosyllabic and I tried to complete my business as quickly as possible. Next time (I imagine there will be a next time, somewhere) I’ll be able to gather my wits about me more quickly, and I will have a scathing reply ready.

Any suggestions?

PS: Wondering how the weekend marching went? I’ll be posting about that on my flickr daily photo diary in a little bit.

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