On a stormy afternoon in Rotterdam my boyfriend and I decide to have lunch at a wonderful diner called By Jarmusch. We then crossed the street to do some grocery shopping for our movie night. We both live near this grocery store so we are regular customers. While standing in the check-out line we chatted and when our turn came I started packing the bag. Suddenly the white middle-aged cashier leaned over to my boyfriend and said "you should speak Dutch to her if she lives here, otherwise they never learn it." My boyfriend was stunned and I in awe. Why would anyone look at two people and assume all of this. I could not grasp any of it. I turned to her and said and said in Dutch that I speak the language just fine. For a split second I saw her swallow her pride but it was unfortunately far too strong so it came right back up. If you know me then you know that I detest vomit and the words that came out of her mouth seemed to be just that.
"I get people all the time who only speak English and we speak to them in English but we should speak Dutch to them. " I marveled at the woman. How did she come to the conclusion that my boyfriend was the Dutch one? Was it because he said that the cheese was his? 'Het is van mij.' Couldn't anyone say these words? Why did I have to be a foreigner? Why couldn't I be practicing my English or more likely that he was practicing his? She assumed all the things she did because I am black and my boyfriend looks as white as they come. What bothered me the most was the way the lady defended her point as if she had not just made a huge mistake. I even told her that I could just as well be an American on vacation. Yet she continued to spew more babble while all my boyfriend wanted to say is "lady just mind your business". Instead, we both walked away.
I left the Dirk van den Broek on the Goudsesingel angry, hurt and disappointed. One would think that living in a city as big as Rotterdam would not come with prejudice at every turn. Unfortunately I left the shop feeling let down yet again. It feels as if every time I give Dutch caucasians a chance, they prove to me that they cannot do better. I do not want to put anyone in a box but the fact that a woman felt comfortable enough to speak about me as if I was not there, in a language that she assumed I did not understand shows how much thinks about people who look like me. The message she sent was a clear one and that is we do not want you here unless you act how we think you should.
I wonder if that is what I should be teaching my students. I wonder if this is what the Dirk intended when they put her at the register. I wonder if she will think about what she did. I wonder if anyone will read this and actually understand why I am emotional about this. I wonder if this will change anything.
P.S. Bae chose today's title. Please let us know what you thought about it.