I watched Crash (Matt Dillon, not James Spader) for the first time the other day. It’s a film about racial tensions in LA, and was touching, poignant, subtle and sweet; one of the best films I’ve seen in a while. It made me think of the small things that affect foreigners and immigrants. You see, people don’t need the word ‘Paki’ blared at them to make them feel bad; it’s the smaller, subtler things that can make them feel like crap.
I remember being on the DLR a few years ago and this Bengali man was asking the DLR officer for some help with directions. The DLR guy couldn’t understand the man’s accent. After a few seconds, he huffed and said impatiently, “I don’t understand what you’re saying – sorry,” and just turned away. The Bengali man, chastened, simply stood there with downcast eyes, saying nothing further. I couldn’t quite believe it. I stood and, in Bengali, asked him where he wanted to go. Now, I admit that even I had trouble understanding him but the point is, I persevered. I figured out that he wanted to go to Morden. As we were on the DLR headed from Bank towards Limehouse (lovely Limehouse where I used to live… sob), I told him he needed to get off now (at Shadwell) and take the train in the opposite direction. I told him the train goes no further than the next stop where he needs to get off and catch the Northern Line. I was worried that he wouldn’t be able to find his way to the right platform so I told him to ask another person to point him in the right direction when he got to Bank.
After he left, I realised that I should have written down ‘Morden’ for him on a piece of paper because, most likely, the person he asks at the other end would just shrug and say, “I don’t understand what you’re saying – sorry”. It mays sound strange, but over the past few years, I’ve often thought about that man and felt really sad.
There are people who struggle with language and life every single day. Yes, people should make an effort to learn the language of their land (that should apply as much to British ex-pats in, say, Dubai as to Bengali immigrants in the UK) but in the interim, imagine the sense of disorientation, embarrassment and even fear they feel on a daily basis. When they can’t get from A to B without having to ask for assistance, and consequently feeling ridiculed for the way they speak, well, that’s pretty sad, right?
Anyway, sorry – that’s enough melancholy for one day. I don’t know why I’m thinking sad thoughts when the sun is so bright outside. Until next time.