Friday, November 28, 2008

'Harmony in Germany':Politically correct racism

In this day and age, when borders seem to be forever shrinking in the face of the new language everyone in the world seems to want to learn – capitalism – it is harder to be overtly racist than it used to be.

It isn’t as if racism was de rigueur in times bygone, but no one would have looked askance a decade ago at, say, a bus driver in a sleepy English town not taking the bus fare from the hands of an Indian girl, or a Frenchwoman doing likewise when aforesaid woman tries to buy a book on Van Gogh at the Louvre (in the year 2000). Just for example.

Now, however, what with ‘political correctness’ taking centre-stage in our scheme of things (and how can it not, when migrants form such a large percentage of any place’s population?), one complaint to the right people and the bus driver and shop assistant would be out of a job.

Does this mean, then, that racism has vanished altogether? That we’ve managed to beat down this ugly monster and relegate it to the realms of nothingness? Far from it. All that we’ve managed to achieve, with this superficial propagation of that which is PC, is to force racism into a new shape; make it necessary for it to assume a new form.

Cut to 2008. Frankfurt airport. I’m flying Lufthansa, and arrive at the counter, ready to check in. The woman at the counter asks me to weigh my cabin baggage too, for some reason. Having stowed my laptop in there, it was a little above the stipulated 8 kilos. I told her as much. She turned her sweetest smile upon me and said, “Well, feel free to throw it away then.” I thought she hadn’t heard me, and repeated that it was overweight because I had my laptop, which I was allowed to carry as a separate piece anyway, in there. She smiled and said, “You heard me – I said ‘feel free to throw it away’. You could do that, for example.”

For example. This is when it dawned on me that I’d stumbled across someone who was very au courant – a la mode, culturally, to the tee, what was being used upon this unsuspecting country cousin was the ‘latest’ form of racism – metamorphosed into this sickly sweet politeness, chilling by virtue of how it uses the smile – that ultimate leveller which speaks to something in us all, regardless of what language we speak or where we’re from – and disconnects it from what we associate it with most; the ability to empathise or ‘connect’ with another human being.

I stepped out of the queue, and attempted to “throw away” whatever I possibly could – the casualties were the posters, newspapers, calendars and other literature I’d picked up at the music festival I’d gone to Germany to cover. It was that, or the laptop. This done, she made me queue up again. I didn’t mind. I watched her fawn over the people ahead of me (with bigger, heavier bags too, mind you), and help them out as best she could. When it came to my turn again, that smile didn’t wither, but the light in her eyes that accompanied it did. I couldn’t wait to get out of there. Paying the (exorbitant) ‘excess baggage’ sum she said I owed the airline, I did.


the snake said...

oh them i have encountered too...
on my flight to Tokyo...when i asked a german flight attendant to lend me a pen to fill in an immigration form, he said," i am sorry sir, i don't have one.." he had 3 pens neatly tucked in in his shirt pocket, but before i could say anything, he said " you're travelling on an international flight without a pen?" with a sweet smile.
so i smiled back and asked him " is that a new in-flight violation?"
his smile withered, and he walked away.

Harmony Siganporia said...

I've heard from other people who have also been 'Frankfurted', if you will, since I got back. I put it down to them local-type things realising they'll never be able to leave that airport to go anywhere and do anything else. The 'smallness'of that existence probably hits them like a ton of bricks when they see someone (very 'Other', of course) headed some place nice. I've decided to take pity on that sad airport staffer rather than let the memory annoy and rankle me any further. Hmph - suitably sanctimonious I sound now, nein?

Icy said...

it can get on to your nerves at times and leave a bad taste in your mouth....After staying in Dublin (ireland) for 2 weeks i was heading back with a very good impression of the place and its the aiport after going through all the security checks we were going towards the waiting area and this security guy ask me to stop - very politely says "May i search your handbag? Its a "Random" search". I was thinking yeah right that's bloody random - I am the only brown guy at the airport!!

but having said that it also works both the ways....for e.g. on my way from singapore to manila the security checks were being done mostly by people of indian origin. So as a part of the process the guy (read white) was ask to take off his belt shoes, wallet etc etc before he walked through to the metal detectors - when it was my turn i started removing my shoes and the guy spoke in tamil saying its ok for you sir just move on.... Now i was pleasantly suprised by that coz it was contrary to my earlier experiences - anyways it was good not to be at the receiving end :D

But come to think of it I think you are right Harmony...never thought out things from that point of view - coz generally people are nice - but there are a few frustrated souls around that manage to mess up things for others as well....