I started PC 189 with: “You remember back BC (Note 1) when we couldn’t envisage the future and we made plans …..” and I was thinking how to start this little scribble ……. and rather liked that ‘You remember back BC …’ because it’s possible that we will contrast much of our behaviour today and in the coming weeks and months with what we did BC.
BC we read people’s faces in an unconscious manner, looking for tell-tale signs of emotions, the whole gamut from happy to sad, from delight to disgust, from friendliness to suspicion, from openness to ‘keep your distance’, from love to hate. The list and pairings are endless. From two metres with reasonable eyesight you could pretty much gauge the messages, up close and personal definitely. Now ‘up close and personal’ is seen as an invasion of one’s space, as a mark of disrespect. For those whose natural inclination is to hug and French kiss at any opportunity, these new-found rules are hard to abide by. For those who are very internally focused and emotionally cold-blooded it’s a godsend; they see everyone behaving just like them!
Then comes the wearing of the mask, which the majority of us believe is a sensible way to shield oneself and others from airborne germs. There are those who want to kick against the perceived threat to their personal freedom and liberties and talk of court action – poor souls. The mouth, that wonderful feature that tells tales, conscious and unconscious, is hidden. My comments in PC 189 about unconscious communication and its difficulty wearing a mask prompted many comments. One highlighted the difficulty of the paramedic, communicating within the team and with the individual, the focus of their emergency call-out. Reading personal accounts of hospital staff coping with patients in the intense days of the pandemic reinforces how we have to consciously change our facial features to ensure the messages are received.
The other evening my brother-in-law celebrated his birthday and a few friends were invited to share some Thai food and the cake. Should I wear a mask? Well, these people hadn’t been out of Portugal since lockdown so we assumed (?) they were Covid-free …. but we didn’t know! Later in the evening I realised how hypocritical I had been, chastising those in the UK who had attended parties with scant regard for spreading the virus and yet here I was, surrounded by strangers with hardly a social distance in evidence. But of course in a nod to the new behaviour, we did ‘elbow kiss’ or ‘bum bump’ as they arrived!
Today I overheard a scene that would not have happened BC. Firstly let me put my hand up and confess my knowledge of the Portuguese language is only marginally better than it was eight years ago which, given that then I had ‘da nada’, is not much to crow about! I had gone to the local upmarket grocers (read PC 141 Saloio from December 2018) to buy some supplies. They had a visibly stated policy of only allowing a certain number of people into the store at any one time, so there was a small queue on the narrow cobbled pavement of Avenida de Nice, although its masked participants were not socially distancing (so 50% OK!). I watched a woman and two children lift their purchases onto the checkout desk; as always when shopping with small children there were things in the basket that she hadn’t chosen but with some discussion with the animated children one or two items made it through the checkout. At the head of the queue outside, whether ‘at the head’ by taking her turn or by barging in with the air of entitlement, was an older woman, let’s call her Renata, clearly frustrated by having to wait:
“Children aren’t allowed in the shop. Come on! Hurry up!” Renata muttered in a voice clearly loud enough to be heard inside. The woman at the check-out looked up, acknowledged the other one, finished packing her purchases and paid the friendly staff. As she left she said to Renata who was already pushing her way in, completely oblivious of two little children and shopping bags:
“Now you can go in!”
Well, you could sense that this was a trigger, this well-mannered and quietly-spoken comment, to Renata whose fuse was set at danger.
I’ll paraphrase with my own personal observations.
“You stupid woman! Don’t you know that children are not allowed in the shop? I can’t afford to wait, as I have a very busy and important day.” (Note 2)
Raising her voice into a scream, twisting her face into a grimace, sure of the righteousness of her opinion, she wasn’t expecting anyone to dare a retort!
(We were all, shoppers and staff, who I later found out considered Renata always rude, were transfixed, frozen in the moment, awaiting the next interaction!)
It was clear that such selfishness deserved a response from the woman who, by now, was already on the pavement.
“Actually, you rude cow, children are allowed in and if you have such a busy life, why don’t you f**king shop when it’s less crowded?” she shouted at Renata.
Renata strode back towards the entrance, puce in the face, basket in hand and flustered: “How dare you talk to me like that; you don’t even know who I am! Bitch!”
The woman on the pavement screamed something like “Go f**k yourself!” and walked away, red-faced and probably inwardly regretting her own inability to control her temper.
Anyway this was only my reading of the situation, as the words were ‘lost in translation’! I couldn’t imagine this happening BC …… but maybe it did occasionally?
Richard 13th August 2020
Note 1. BC short for Before Coronavirus
Note 2. Somewhere in PC 141 I wrote: “…… a member of staff coming up the stairs clutching a single item asked for with an imperious tone and raised eyebrow in answer to the ‘they are downstairs madam’ response. The old-moneyed Europeans mingle with the nouveau riche, both stretching past one for a packet of smoked salmon, without any consideration or acknowledgement of your existence. There’s a certain haughtiness, a sense of birth right, that gives them the confidence to act in this rude way, whether the disdain is obvious or not.”