On my way home from work this evening a sweating, smelly Frenchman, wearing a bright yellow shirt and bug-eye glasses, his face a cloud of hoary grey and brown beard, decided that since I was another foreigner waiting on line for the train, it was perfectly normal and acceptable to just come up to me and start talking as if I was his parlor room guest. Never mind that I was reading a book or that there were any number of purely Japanese passengers sharing the same general vicinity who might just as easily have been liable to his attentions. I knew he was French because he blithely told me so, in a baritone chatter of French accented English.
His follow up words to me were, “You are from Europe, aren’t you? I can tell.”
Now just how could he tell that I was European? I look like a Mexican or Iraqi or Indian or Turk, or possibly Spanish or Portuguese, but at first glance people would tend to generalize toward Third World material. It couldn’t have been my clothes, because I was wearing a very American type of underclassed chino pants with short-sleeved shirt and mismatched, bright, flower-embroidered silk tie, a combination that I suspect any real self-respecting European wouldn’t be caught dead in. And it couldn’t have been my accent, because, if he deemed it at all necessary to actually listen to my reply, he would have filtered in a very American twang with un-“u”ed colors and un “ae”ed airplanes.
He proceeded to launch into a story about how his friends in Paris had held onto his apartment for two years after he’d left for Japan with his newfound Japanese wife. “Uh… Excuse me?”, you may ask with complete credibility. After all, stories usually come attached with reference and precedence. But he bulldozed on with his story, jumping back and forth between France and Senegal and Brazil and Hong Kong and Germany and naturally Japan (but not America because the food is awful and not Korea because the people hate Japanese), all places he claimed to have graced with his long-term presence.
The train pulled into the station, the doors opened, and the waiting passengers filed in and took their seats. I stepped into the car and bee-lined for the center of the seats, to avoid the tippiness of late night Japanese after-drinking commuters who tended to lean all over you if you sat near the ends of the seat. To my dismay the Frenchman positioned himself right alongside me, and pressed pretty close, what with the train accumulating passengers like a flooding tunnel. Now this Frenchman reeked of male bacteria and continued to babble nonstop as sweat poured down his face and into his beard and spittle flew from his lips onto my unappreciative shirt and face.
Why am I being so mean to this man? Well, let me tell you.
First he started on the Koreans, relating anecdote after anecdote about how every Korean he had met in his life had proceeded to enlighten him with how much they hated Japanese and what they would do to avoid letting any Japanese even come within arm’s length. When I attempted to open my little mouth to express how many Japanese friends of mine went out of their way to go to Korea and make friends there, he shook his head violently (spittle leaping unpardonable gaps) and told his Japanese wife’s story of being shunned by Koreans in her French class.
He took the next step of enlightenment and proceeded to downdress all Africans. “They are a dangerous people. Killing everyone all the time. Just barbarians.”
Then it was Arabs in France, and on this subject he proved a grand master of irony and sledgehammer subtlety. “The Arabs in France are a bunch of degenerate, murdering, thieving, uneducated criminals who should all be put in jail. And you know what the problem is? French law. Unlike America, where everyone is allowed to carry guns, in France only the bad people can get hold of guns, knives, and bazookas (“Bazookas?” I tried to question with upraised eyebrows, but there was no response).” “France would be a better place if everyone could carry guns and kill those bastards and get them out of the country. And those blacks and Gypsies, too. Everything went to hell when the Iraq war started. Arabs taking over the whole world.”
So much for the lily white image of innocent French people. To my immense relief he stumbled off the train one stop before mine and continued to babble his way right out of the train, never thinking to ask my phone number or e-mail address. All I wanted to do was wipe off my shirt and face and step off into the night, where the air was fresh and clean and my Arab-looking face could soften a bit. And to clean that stupid grin off my lips… a grimace held in animated suspension as disbelief, disgust, and diversion bore the onslaught. I was too tired to do any telling off.