Sunday, July 26, 2009

Staring (the Caribbean and Canadian ways)

Public transport ... a great place to observe people

(Canada chronicles continued ...)

The other day I was on a bus and it stopped to pick up a woman. If you are from the Caribbean, you will understand when I say she looked like a Mabel or Tantie Merle. She sat in the seat adjacent to me, so I was able to see her face and where/how she was looking when a young girl came onto the bus. Mabel started to 'eye up' the girl, looking her up and down repeatedly, scanning her outfit with a disapproving pout of the upper lip. She didn't have to speak for me to hear her thinking about 'dem young people nowadays and how dey does dress." This alone gave me a clue that she could be originally from the Caribbean. She continued to stare shamelessly at the girl for the duration of my bus ride (about 3 minutes).

I've noticed that Canadian people on the other hand are more polite and subtle with staring (if they stare at all). I've noticed this on a few occasions on which I thought "If this happened in Trinidad, people would be macoing, staring unabashedly and possibly making loud comments."

The most recent occasion occured when I was at a subway station last Thursday. There was an overweight woman with a small beard, shabbily dressed. She was carrying about ten bags (the plastic kind you get at the grocery and have to pay 5 cents for if you don't bring your own market bag. Something Trinidad & Tobago would do well to adopt). I thought nothing of her or her bags until we got onto the train. As I sat down and pulled a jacket out of my bag, I got a strong whiff of urine. I was alarmed, wondering if my jacket (for some unkown reason) had urine on it or if the seat I had just sat on had old urine soaked in it. Then, to my relief (because it was neither of those), I saw the bag lady sorting through her treasures ... a few feet away from me. She was slowly opening each bag and closing it again. Each bag emitted a new, loud, increasingly unbearable stench.
Garbage strike has been on since before I arrived in early July

From where I sat, I observed her. Not in the Mabel-woman way (staring her up and down), but more à la David Attenborough hiding in a bush, whispering as he observes wild animals on one of his nature documentaries. At the same time, I was also observing the two girls sitting across the aisle from her. They both had on earphones and were listening to music. Every now and then their eyes would slide across to the woman for a quick, updated glance and return to staring straight ahead, back into their music. At one point, as the stench became particularly intense, near to stifling, they quickly glanced at each other, exchanged polite that-smells-awful smiles and returned to the music.

Some children all dressed in "Toronto Walks" (rain or shine) raincoats swarmed onto the train with their guardian and gathered in the corner where I was sitting. Within seconds, their stubby fingers were on their noses like clothes pegs. I saw their eyes search our surroundings for the source of the stench and, once they saw the woman and her bags, they didn't need to look again. They just continued holding their noses as they discussed serious issues like:

"Do you think if you fell halfway off the CN Tower you would die?"

"No. Only if you fell on a cactus or something."


Lynn Cohen said...

This is such a funny post. I laughed out loud at the kids words especially. Did they REALLY say that? Too funny!!!
Oh I would have wanted to get off the bus!
Shame about the garbage strike. I'm amazed you and Kelly have not gone around picking it all up yourselves! LOL

Lynn Cohen said...

PS May I quote you and what the kids said for my Cactus Monday post?

Elspeth said...

Yes they said those words ... and more (but I can't remember the rest now). Sure you can quote.

Anonymous said...

Interesting cross-cultural study. These are some of the things I will be expected to cover in settlement English classes! LOVE the way the children held their noses but were polite enough to converse about something totally different, like those cacti at the base of the CN Tower (LOL). PS Garbage strike resolved, trash should start disappearing soon.