Last week my wife wanted to watch ‘Pride & Prejudice’ and being, being prejudiced, I bit my lip. We not only watched one hour long session that night, but two repeats of the 1980’s programme, and over the next two nights we watched the other four, so desperate was she to complete the series. Costume drama is not my thing yet come programme three, I was involved and by five, hooked. That’s a neat lesson on prejudice and all week I’ve been watching myself closely.
On the campsite people drew up beside us in a neat little camper-van and I remarked, “What a great little van!”
The man looked at me as if I were mad. So did his wife. From inside, their teenage daughter gave me the same look. Assuming they’d not understood my English, I slowly said, “Your van is good!” You have a shower area and toilet and all in such a small body.”
“There is no shower. We shower outside!” The man barked.
I laughed, “Cold in our British weather!”
“We are not cold. We shower there!” He growled, pointing at the toilet block. All three again gave me that look.
Giving up, I shrugged and said, “I hope your holiday is owing well.”
Once more those looks. “Naturally!”
I looked at the number plate and thought, “Typically Germanic conversation, well, not my part, I was being too impractical.” I shrugged, thinking, “Well they fit the stereo-types!” It then struck me I was reinforcing those stereo-types. Perhaps they were shy, perhaps they simply wanted to get out of the cold wind and snuggle up inside that neat van for the night.
The next day we were on the beach amongst a jolly pile of families enjoying the bursting sunshine. Children rushed about naked, mums lolled about in bikinis, dads in wetsuits paddled surfboards. It was perfect. Everyone was happily rubbing along together, joking, smiling, stopping to chat. It was paradise. And I slotted everyone into a box depending on their looks. Along came a group of perhaps ten men attired for the occasion, with their women wrapped in burkas. They kept very much to themselves. I felt myself wishing they would integrate, but maybe where they came from they were scorned and hence stuck in tight groups.
I asked one of the women if she was hot in black.
She laughed, “Once you’re hot you’re hot.”
Her lightness inspired me to ask, “Do you have to wear black?”
Again that lovely laugh, “I can wear any colour I like, but black makes me feel slimmer, I hate being fat and pregnant!”
I said, “The French find pregnant women attractive.”
The woman gawped in amazement. “No!”
My wife said, “A consultant in the hospital I worked in always said pregnant women were beautiful.”
The silent male beside the woman looked at us as if we were mad. The woman laughed. I wanted to ask her so many things, to unravel my prejudices and fill them with a fresher understanding, but his presence prevented any further engagement.
We can’t help being filled with views on others, we need this faculty in order to cope with society, but seeing where and how we allow generalities to become engrained is vital. It helps us step aside from narrow, closed, thoughts, for it is they that cause trouble.