The art of awkward conversation.

[CONTENT NOTE: racism/White Supremacy, xenophobia (FROM AN IMMIGRANT…), fat shaming, food policing, general assholery.]

I mentioned recently that I had been traveling through the region of the country I call Pennsyltucky. I was accompanying My Amazing Lover™ to a conference in Dallas, TX, where I had occasion to take the hotel shuttle to the Dallas Galleria shopping mall. I know, I know: you simply cannot envision Your Humble Monarch™ ever gracing with her presence such a monument to base consumerism, labor exploitation and fluorescent lighting. But you would be wrong for at least three reasons, two of which are generally applicable and one specific to this particular point in spacetime:

  1. New Yorkers don’t really have malls per se, so an opportunity to partake of the same indoor shopping ritual so many of my fellow citizens perform on a regular basis is rare for us indeed. (Yes we have the Manhattan Mall, which is small and always overcrowded and no one I know has ever gone there more than once. WE DON’T EVEN SPEAK OF IT.) An argument could be made that excepting Central Park, the entire island of Manhattan is essentially one enormous shopping mall. But a shopping excursion here is an entirely different experience from mall shopping altogether. For example: weather is a factor.
  2. Cultural anthropology, people. Intrepid journalists and pontificating pundits (such as myself) must go forth from time to time and, horrifying though it may be, bravely gaze with our own eyes upon the suburban American zeitgeist. For instance, one might notice (and then ponder the implications of) the fact that the Dallas Galleria contains not one but two sports memorabilia shops, and not one single book store.
  3. During my travels, a very happy event occurred: the daughter of My Amazing Lover™ gave birth to a gorgeous and healthy baby girl, a few weeks earlier than expected. We wanted to meet her as soon as possible upon our return, and of course no envoy from the Palace would ever dream of doing so without bearing gold, frankincense and myrrh non-toxic age-appropriate gifts. Thus a trip to a shopping mall seemed in order. (Where, by the way, I totally scored some great deals on some cool stuff EXCEPT FOR BOOKS BECAUSE THERE ARE NO BOOKS THERE.) Perhaps somewhat relevant to the rest of this post is the fact that this beautiful child is biracial.

I sat on a bench under a shade tree just outside the entrance to a Banana Republic, waiting for the hotel shuttle’s return. I was soon joined by a middle-aged woman who spoke very good English with a distinct Russian accent. (Let’s call her Elena.) Elena asked if I was with the same group she was and headed back to the same hotel, and I said yes. We made small talk about the weather and the conference hotel and whatever. The rest of our conversation went something like this.

__________

ELENA: The driver that brought me here was so rude.

IRIS: Huh. Mine wasn’t, he was nice and very helpful.

ELENA: Can you believe he had a big sign behind his seat, right in my face, that said “tips are appreciated”? For what? It’s only a five minute drive!

IRIS: Well I gave mine five bucks. Seemed worth it to me—a cab would probably cost more. Plus I have no idea what his pay is, so.

[A group of three young women pass us on their way into the mall. ELENA’s gaze follows them. IRIS ignores them and checks her phone for messages.]

ELENA: Did you know that by 2040 or 2050, white people will be in the minority in this country?

IRIS: [looks up. stares at ELENA.]

ELENA: The same thing is happening to Europe, too. [shakes head disapprovingly.]

IRIS: Good. We’ve certainly done a terrible job and made a HUGE mess of things.

ELENA: …well, I was…um…

IRIS: [*silence*]

ELENA:  …I read that, so…

IRIS: [*silence*]

ELENA: …I was just saying something about what I read…

IRIS: (aside)

wonkaminorityImage: Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka, smirking amusedly.
Text: OH, SO YOU’RE AFRAID OF WHITES BECOMING THE MINORITY?
WHY? ARE MINORITIES TREATED LIKE SECOND CLASS CITIZENS OR SOMETHING?

ELENA: …I was just making conversation…so…

IRIS: Yes. This is a conversation.

[Hotel shuttle arrives. ELENA and IRIS climb in and THE DRIVER, who appears black, pulls away.]

ELENA: So Iris where are you from?

IRIS: I live in New York City. Originally from Philadelphia.

ELENA: [points to the “tips are appreciated” sign, rolls her eyes exaggetatedly.] I live in South Carolina, but I’m Russian.

IRIS: Well. That’s quite a difference.

ELENA: Yes it is. You know I have to cook every single meal? Because Southern food is just awful.

IRIS: Huh. [vividly imagines buttered grits, biscuits & gravy, slow-cooked BBQ ribs, fried chicken, peach cobbler, pecan pie, banana pudding…]

ELENA: I tell you, we cannot even go out to eat! Everything at the restaurants is fried! It’s disgusting!

IRIS: It’s delicious.

ELENA: It’s why everyone is so fat!

IRIS: Is it?

ELENA: I cannot eat it! This food!

IRIS: [*silence*]

ELENA: I don’t need it. No one needs it!

IRIS: [*silence*]

ELENA: [stares out the window glumly.] Hmm.

[THE DRIVER soon parks the shuttle in front of the hotel.]

IRIS: [very cheerily] It was so great meeting you Elena! I’ll see you tonight at the cocktail hour!

ELENA: Uh, very nice meeting you too. Yes.

[IRIS makes a beeline toward the hotel bar.]

And…SCENE.

__________

Hat tip to the amazing Captain Awkward, who frequently reminds me that whenever people say shitty things, it’s okay to let the horrid stench of their verbal poo linger in the air, without response or acknowledgement of any kind. This has a tendency to make them very uncomfortable, which when you think about it is really an ideal result.

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