I spend too much time around old women – specifically, the ones in my family.
Every weekend I visit my grandma. On Saturday my aunt is there; on Sunday, my mum. The conversations always touch the same clutch of topics and rarely is anything new said about any of them, but I tend to just sit there and drink my coffee anyway. I don’t say much, and when I do speak it’s either cutting social commentary or to correct something one or other of them has said: typically, language and grammar; or indeed… casual racism.
My grandma will see her doctor and instead of simply telling me what he said, she feels it absolutely imperative to firstly make me aware that he is from India, you know, as if that geographical note assists the storytelling in some capacity, yet she has never once specifically pointed out to me that anyone was white. To be honest, all of the older women in my family are just like that.
When I ask her how she can be sure he is Indian, she says; because of his accent and the way he looks. Ah-ha. I see. I had, of course, forgotten that my grandma specialised in sub-continental dialects and skin tones. I guess I should just be thankful she doesn’t say; because he offers me a papadum when I get there.
So, having established where he may be from, she then gets to the important bit – what he said, right? Well, yes, except now that I am familiar with his place of extraction it seems she now has carte blanche to relay his diagnosis in broken English. Why, I’m not sure: she is not a good mimic, and it adds no value to the anecdote. Ironically, he probably speaks a higher level of English than she does.
They don’t mean to offend, I’m sure, but I rarely allow that little nugget to stop me from telling them. It’s an age thing… they say, as if too many birthdays is an excuse to be ignorant. I remember one conversation, before my granddad passed away: it was the only time I walked out on them. I stormed out of their house and went home. That was many years ago, and my grandma is still waiting for an apology. Family or not, it makes no difference to me.
I’d like to think the kind of attitudes and opinions I still see in them will die with their generation: that once they go, so too will all this stupidity and superficiality.
But I doubt it.