So, I had the opportunity to go on a school trip with Esther recently.
As I got on the school bus I was glad to see a mummy who I haven’t had the chance to get to know yet. Me being the social butterfly that I am, I was excited for the opportunity to introduce myself properly and once again widen the perimeter of my ever growing friendship circle.
So, as we arrive at our destination I take my daughter by the hand, dismount the bus, and with my very best, all confidence and gaiety ‘lets be friends’ smile, I Tigger-bounce over to Nepalese Mummy and introduce myself
“Hi there, I’m Emily, Esi’s mum, I don’t think we have met properly.” To which she replied,
“oh yer. Did you always have this thing on your face?”
I was a little taken aback as my hand went to my face to search out the offensive ‘thing’ in question. Perhaps, it was the remnants of this mornings breakfast, or maybe I sneezed after applying my mascara, or worse still, a drippy nose. I mean it wouldn’t be the first time. We are talking here about the mummy who did an entire grocery shop in Manhattan whilst wearing her daughters fairy tiara.
But then I realized that she was looking intently at my face.
My whole face.
Like I had a deformity.
And then she said,
“What do you call this thing? Freckles? “
To which I replied with, I must admit, a little relief that it wasn’t the drippy nose,
“Oh right, yes freckles”
To which she replied,
“Can the doctor not help you? Is there no cure?”
Then she looks at my beautiful baby girl and says, “Do all your children have it? It’s a terrible thing…”
“No. No cure. Doctors can’t help. We are stuck like this forever” I said thinking that any moment she is going to stop insulting me, break into peals of laughter and squeal ‘Ha ha, I had you!”
But apparently not.
Instead she says,
“I can give you a paste. It is made of parsley and other herbs and you must put it on your faces, to take away this thing…”
But here’s the funny thing. Me being all-English and the epitome of nice manners and polite to the very end…I thanked her! I bloody well thanked her!
I have spent the last several weeks avoiding this woman like the plague, terrified that she might produce me with green parsley paste to smear on my face, and that I will actually partake in the smearing rather than tell her the truth, which is that I don’t mind my freckles. Actually I rather like them. And besides, look at this…
I loooooove my kids freckles.
But I like to think of myself as someone who is open minded and adaptable so I decided to investigate the possibility that Nepal lady might have a valid point…That she might be looking after my best interests…that no freckles might be a positive thing…and because deep down I am actually vain to my core, I decided to photoshop just to see…because you never know…Because there are procedures out there today…freckle removing procedures…of the non parsley paste variety…
Freaking. Alien. Woman.
And somehow I took out an eye, and couldn’t get it back. So I’m actually ‘Cyclopes freaking alien woman.’
Clearly I will be keeping my freckles. And my eye, for that matter.
So, apart from avoiding Nepal lady like the plague, I have also been thinking lots about culture and behavior. I talked to a Japanese friend and told her my freckles story, which she didn’t find remotely amusing or at all surprising. Infact she plainly told me,
“Look where I come from, people work very hard to stay out of the sun. Freckles are not considered beautiful and yes you would be pitied for having them. But you are not from my culture. In your culture you don’t mind those things. Its different rules.”
Different rules. No need for offence. Just different rules.
I remember so well a conversation that I had with our dear sweet housekeeper in Zambia, in 2007 in our final days as we were preparing to return to the UK. She looked at me from across the room and said,
“Ah emily, now you have a very fat bottom and it is very good. When you first arrived here you were so thin. My God you looked like you had HIV”
Ironic. I mean, I spend my life trying not to have a fat bottom. Heck, only this morning, I went through 55 minutes of sheer pain in the hope of attaining a hard body and defying the laws of ‘sag’, and yet here in Africa, tight buns in skinny jeans is comparable, in attractiveness, to serious illness.
This world is so colorful. People’s opinions and behaviours are so colorful. Sometimes scarlet and cerise colorful. Yet, how dreary it would be if we all thought the same as one another. How boring it would be to go to foreign lands and see everyone dressed like the Brits – God forbid. Or to see a world full of alabaster complexions.
And I have to say, I love it that I am not the only person out there putting my great big foot in it. I love that people are so obliviously offensive. I fit right in. Don’t get me wrong, I have to deep breath my way through many a conversation. I have to choose to not take offence. But I do so love the colour of this international life.
To finish, my favorite story of the week.
This morning a friend here was telling me about how at the weekend, she was trying to fill out the official paperwork for applying for residency as a Malawian citizen. One of the questions she had to answer was
‘ Are you mentally incapacitated?’ and underneath it said this;
‘ definition for above – “Idiot.”
Now thats diplomacy for you. I think that gets a vermillion, never mind cerise.