This happened on Tuesday. I am in my local supermarket to scope out dinner, and have made it as far as the shelf of cheese.
Lady of a certain age: “Excuse me?”
Lady: “Could you- *by now I’ve plucked out my headphones and turned to face her, she hesitates* do you speak English?”
Lady: “Oh good. Could you tell me which price-tag is for which cheese? *points to one particular shelf* My eyesight isn’t what it used to be.”
Me: *reads out the names of ALL THE FRENCH CHEESES – with a French accent – along with their price, and points to the corresponding packaging while doing so*
Lady: “Excellent, thank you.”
Then she leaves with her single bit of Roulé.
Clearly the above event got me slightly riled up. Or at least riled up enough to remember it, and now write it down in this post. I have spent time thinking about why I still give encounters such as this one much thought. After all, they are not uncommon in my life, and I have been “praised” for my good English by people ranging from fellow shoppers to fellow academics. It may well be an innocent assumption that a person who looks 100% Asian may be lacking in the English department. Not everybody can guess that I have been in the UK for nearly 11 consecutive years.
Now I have realised that this is where the toes feel tread on. The notion that “oh, so she does speak English” or “oh, her English is rather good” based exclusively on my appearance is very patronising. If I am trying to hold or join an academic conversation, it can be undermining of what the conversation was originally about. If I at any time felt well-integrated in my current adoptive home, and am my own person with a personality and individual identity in the eyes of my friends and long(er)-time colleagues, a comment about the state of my English (which I have never claimed to be perfect – “competent” is more my tune) will automatically reduce me to my ethnicity only. Granted, gender comes in to this as well, but that is a whole other can of worms, and ladies buying cheese will be one of the smaller ones at that.
Bonus thing three:
A quite meta addition, as it is a “listicle” (article made up of numbered bullet points). Newbie feminism for the people.
On that note, happy weekend to all!