Friday, July 13, 2012

On taxis and Being from Elsewhere

"Oh for - !"
"WOULD you - ?"

Seven times in the space of two months, I have made taxi-drivers cranky before I've even said a word.  They looked at me with expressions of extreme pain and forbearance, but there was clearly a cultural gap of understanding that left both of us bewildered.
            And at last - twice in the past ten days, the mystery has been made clear.
            On Tuesday last, I climbed into a taxi, shut the car door, gave the  driver my address - and he winced, and turned in his seat and said:
            "A gringo, huh? Yup. I thought so. So can you please tell me, why for the love of God do all you gringos slam car doors so (redacted) hard?"
            I had to sit and think about that one. 
            And I realized that yes, I suppose that I do. I pull the door firmly shut when I get into a car, and I slam it decisively shut behind me when I get out.  And I do it without considering relativity - there is no softer than, or harder than, or any other way to do it - there is just the Firm Shut Door.
            "It may be good manners."  I said, thinking aloud.  "There's not an intent of force as much as there's an intent of sound- an audible signal to the driver that I'm in securely, that I haven't left the door flapping, and that it's safe to drive away." 
            I thought about it some more.
            "Believe it or not"  I said. "I think that we think that it's good manners."
The driver digested this and rejected it.
            "It's like you want to break the latch or tear the door off it's (redacted) hinges or something!  It doesn't matter where you're from, for God's sake - you all (redacted) do it!"
            And that was that.
            When he dropped me at my destination, I opened and closed the door with the slowest, softest whisper of air pressure imaginable, and had to lean closely on the door to make sure that it was closed at all.  The driver gave me a grudging nod through the drivers side window and sped off with unnecessary vim.
            That was last Tuesday.  On the Thursday, as I was sliding into the taxi's backseat, before I'd opened my mouth or even touched the door, the driver threw himself around in his seat and hissed "Softly, softly, for the love of God close that door softly- what is it with you gringos, huh?"
            Which opens a whole different kettle of onions, because clearly I read as 'other' even before I open my mouth. (I need to wear pointier shoes.  More scarves.  Less blue eyeliner.  Do something, anything, with my hair.  Maybe?)
            Ever since, I have gone in and out of taxis with such careful tenderness and solicitude that five out of six times (and counting) the door hasn't shut properly and I've had to go back for a do-over: a sharp wave-off to the driver as he peels back into the traffic, a solid, snicking gringo slam, and wildly un-Chilean thumbs-up to let him know that we're all good now. 
            Unmistakably a gringo at 50 paces.  That's me.

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