Not long ago, the fixed term on our mortgage was due to expire and we had arranged for a mortgage broker to come to our house to discuss our options. The gentleman was very friendly and perfectly pleasant, and I don’t know whether it was the sight of an obviously Muslim couple (man with a beard down to his armpits/woman wearing a headscarf and a sleeping bag) that made him uncomfortable or whether he was just one of those people that try so hard to make conversation that they forget to think about what they’re saying, but he just kept saying the most ridiculous things. After he left, my husband and I had a good laugh about it (yes, contrary to popular belief, Muslims do laugh about things; even the multilayered beardy ones), so I thought I would make a compilation of all the comedy gems he came out with.
NB: As I am still a blogging novice, I don’t know what the correct etiquette is about naming people on blogs and I can’t actually remember the name of the aforementioned mortgage broker, but for the sake of not writing mortgage broker (which I’m not even sure is his title) multiple times and, in line with making assumptions based on racial stereotypes, I will call him Bob Smith or BS for short – see what I did there?
1) “Have you been to Manchester and seen all the different curries you can get from the Curry Mile?”
When my new pal BS said this, I found it hard to keep a straight face. He literally said it as soon as he walked through the door. As he was clearly trying hard to make conversation, I didn’t think it was fair to say anything to him, but the very idea that he saw two Asian people and thought that the only way he could put them at ease was by discussing all the curries available in Manchester was hilarious.
Yes, curries are eaten in a lot of South Asian households (and probably not as much as you think), but it’s not a particularly interesting topic of conversation and we are capable of talking about, and eating, other things too. It’s like when the fire-safety people were doing checks in our area one morning and, like the classy girl that I am, I had just finished eating the English delicacy that is beans on toast. He sniffed the air and asked, “Have you been frying samosas?” The two things don’t even have a similar smell, but if it wasn’t curry that he could smell then naturally it must have been samosas!
2) “You have a boy! Yay for you!”
When BS arrived, I was on my way to put our then newborn son down for a nap. When I returned, he asked if the baby I had been carrying was a boy or a girl. After being told it was a boy, he celebrated on our behalf, as though, because we are Asian, we must have been longing for a boy after having had a girl. I’m surprised he didn’t ask us if we were tempted to bury our daughter alive in the desert when she was born. Yes, centuries ago, and perhaps still in remote, poverty-stricken parts of the world, boys were coveted more than girls for tribal and financial reasons, but, surprisingly enough, the love I have for my children is not determined by their genitals.
3)“How good is your written English?”
He was only asking me to sign a few forms. Even the very eldest members of our community who don’t speak a word of English other than “Fucking bastar” know how to write that much, whereas I had been talking to this man for the past hour!
It reminded me of an incident when I was on placement during my PGCE. It was my first week so I was just shadowing the teachers of the classes I would be taking over. The TA was a little late to this one particular lesson, so wasn’t present when I had been introduced to the class. After the teacher had set the task for the class, the TA came up to me and asked me to write my full name on a piece of paper, which I assumed she needed for her own records and so happily obliged. She then gave me the worksheet that the rest of the class were working on and began to instruct me on how to fill it in before asking, “Can you speak any English at all?” When I explained that I was a PGCE student, we both laughed and I didn’t think too much of it, but it later occurred to me that it didn’t make sense, on any level, for her to assume what she did.
Granted, the genuinely confused look on my face and my enthusiastic compliance to write my name on what turned out to be an attendance register, combined with the fact that I can imagine that I looked terrified (it was one of those classes that you see on TV and think As if kids actually behave like that at school), probably didn’t help matters, but I was 24 at the time. I am a little overweight and have a generally haggard appearance, which means that when I tell people my age I’m often met with the response, “You look older than that!” Why anyone thinks it’s a good idea to tell someone that is beyond me, but the point I am trying to make is that it was impossible to mistake me for a 14-year-old and the only other time someone did that was when I was 10!
I am not badmouthing the TA in any way – she was an entirely harmless and amicable person, but sometimes the stereotypes some people have of Asian women, particularly those wearing headscarves, are so engrained in their thinking that when they see a 24-year-old one that’s professionally dressed and taking notes sitting at the front of a class because she’s training to be an English teacher, they would happily assume she is a Year 9 unaccompanied child refugee that doesn’t speak English before ever thinking that she might just be there in a professional capacity.
4)“You’re probably related, aren’t you?”
I can’t give BS the credit for this one, but felt I had to include it. My daughter has issues with her eyes so we have regular appointments with the ophthalmologists at the hospital. Our latest appointment was with the consultant who was enquiring about my daughter’s medical history at the end of the consultation and, while I am laughing about it now, I found him massively irritating at the time. I’m not even going to provide a commentary for this – the conversation speaks for itself:
Consultant: Does anyone in your family have this condition?
Me: There’s no one in my family, but I think a few of my husband’s cousins have similar issues.
Consultant: Is your husband your cousin?
Me: No, we’re…
Consultant: But you’re probably related though, aren’t you?
Me: No, he…
Consultant: But you’ve got family links. That explains it, as these things tend to be genetic so it makes sense that it would be in the family. Anyway, I’ll send you a follow-up appointment for three months time. See you then!
[smiles insincerely and leaves the room mumbling, ‘His husband is probably his cousin! That explains how socially impaired people like him find someone to marry, as it makes sense that they need to keep it in the family too! What a silly man! Arse!’]