Whilst stumbling home from a long days work the other night (damn my blister inflicting shoes and their menacing ways…), I was faced with an interesting scenario that got me thinking about those unwritten rules which seem to unconsciously control our society. Allow me to explain. Being about 6pm and England, it was of course dark. Yet the streets were bustling with people coming home from their Saturday activities, and hence I felt there was no real cause for any alarm about my walking home alone, despite the minimal light situation. So there I was, deep within my own trivial thoughts about how I was sure I’d forgotten to put the condiments on one of the tables in my section, and wished I hadn’t made that, what I considered at the time “hilarious” joke to table 40, when I became aware of somebody present behind me. A man. A big man. I started to feel uncomfortable.
Now, whether this is a good or bad thing, I am certainly by no means an over-precautious being. I often eat off my knife, I sometimes take another paracetamol before the four hour safety time gap, and I regularly eat fruit and vegetables without washing them first (which I know some might find disgusting, but I will always defend as significantly time saving). You might basically say I like to live on the wild side. However, despite this, during my twenty-four years and numerous travelling experiences, I have learnt that it always pays off to be aware of your surroundings, and be ready to protect yourself should the circumstances call for immediate defensive action. And so, in response to my “friend” following close behind, I ingeniously moved my hand over my work wine bottle opener located in the front pocket of my handbag, ready for battle. What exactly I intended to do with it should I be attacked fortunately didn’t need to be determined this time, but the point is, I was prepared.
So you can imagine my surprise when even despite my careful discreetness as I prepared myself for the worst with the quickening of my pace, the constant checking over my shoulder, the getting ready to cross to the other side, the weapon in my hand… that the man somehow rapidly clocked on to my alert, and calmly called to me in a friendly Caribbean accent, ‘Ahh don’t worry! I am just passing you!”
“Oh…err..yea…I know!” I reply with a mortified but I think, effective laugh, “I was, err…just…err….” Thinking thank god its dark and you can’t see my blushes of embarrassment if I was to be honest with you dear reader! I felt instantly ashamed to have believed that this nice man would be the end of me that chilly Saturday eve…
“Are you coming back from work?” He politely asked, breaking the increasingly tense silence that had consumed as I tried to think of a plausible reason for my grabbing of the wine bottle opener…
“Ah yes! Yes! Coming back from work! Yes! Busy day – am glad it’s over! Phew! Yea, really pleased, can just chill out at home, relax, eat…” I said, totally over-compensating for my previous failure. There is another pause whilst I think of something to ask back, “So..how about you? You, err…have you had a good day?” Ok, so it wasn’t brilliant, but it sufficed.
And so began a somewhat, I have to admit, pleasant conversation that Saturday night as I walked home from work. Who ever knew my potential attacker could be so interesting? His actual name (rather than ‘potential attacker’) was Ken, he was from Trinidad, was staying here for a year while he studied and worked, it was his first time to England, he thought it was very cold, but he thought the people were considerably warmer. As I said, it was a highly pleasant moment.
But then, the tone of the conversation changed. “What are you doing tonight?’”He asked me.
Alert! Alert! Alert! Game over buddy! This guy was obviously trying to hit on me, it was obviously my duty to lead him off the track, it was obviously time to end this new found friendship.
“Ahh, actually, tonight I am very busy you see. I have lots of work to do and then there’s my boyfriend. Did I mention him before? Yes, my boyfriend. Well he’s coming round later, so yes, very busy night tonight I’m afraid...with my boyfriend.”
“Oh ok. No problem. How about lunch sometime then?”
Whaaat?!! Did he not hear the bit about my boyfriend?! This was going to be harder than I thought…
“No, no, I err, think I’ll be busy…” I mumble.
“What? When? All the time? All week?” He asks confused.
“Erm, yes, exactly. I am a very busy person you see…” boy was that hole getting bigger at this point eh, did it suddenly get hotter out here or was it just me?
He looks at me in a slightly offended way. Aw crap I think, now I am a bad person. I decide to come clean;
“Ok, well the truth is its not really appropriate. Not with me having a boyfriend and everything…”
“Why?” He asks, “Would he mind?”
“Yes” I say, almost compulsively. There is another pause.
“Well, ok then! I only wanted a tour guide, someone to tell me a bit more about the place but hey, I understand! It was nice to meet you Vicky! Take care now! Apologies to your boyfriend if I offended him in anyway! ” And with that, my new Trinidadian friend Ken was gone, out of my life forever, our 20minutes of getting to know each other time is well and truly over.
I felt almost bewildered by the sudden change of events as I stood, in the dark, on that street corner, trying to make sense of it all. I wondered to myself, would Tom (my boyfriend) have really minded? No, probably not. He would have been concerned, in the same way that I initially was, worried that it wouldn’t be safe, but no, he wouldn’t have minded in a jealous boyfriend type way. And this is what I mean about the unwritten, unconscious rules of our society. Firstly, a) always assume that any male stranger – particular if foreign – poses a threat. Be suspicious if they are nice, and always assume the worst. b) If they wish to continue the friendship – there is something wrong. They either want to hit on you, rob you or kidnap you and hold you up for ransom, there simply is no other sufficient explanation.
Yet, despite this, I truly believe that good old Ken just wanted a bit of friendly company from a local in the area, someone who could help him out. I don’t believe he meant me any harm, nor had any sexual intentions, just wanted to be mates. And yet, I had dismissed him, point blank, because I just knew it wasn’t the “done thing” in our society to meet up with a foreign men you’d met on the walk home for lunch, it just wasn’t considered safe, or, more importantly, sane. Yet, I know from my travels that this is a perfectly normal scenario in many countries, I suspect it is a normal scenario in Trinidad. The fact is, in England, we are always taught to think and expect the worst from people, whereas in other countries – say Australia – they are taught to think and expect the best of people. For example, in Australia, when someone comes on an empty bus they sit next to you and say hello, rather than, as we would in England, sitting as far away as possible, making sure at all costs that no eye contact is made (let’s face it, we’d be dialling 999 if they actually had the audacity to sit NEXT to you, they must be a crazy person right?!).
It's sad really, isn’t it?