It started off bad right away. Seated at the Weary Traveler, I asked the Portequese (after our introductions by Roberta) “So, what are you doing here?” (as in Madison)
He snicked, coughed, rolled his eyes and stuttered a bit before saying “Of course, that question.” Stutter, stutter, cough and putter.
“It is a cultural difference.”
“Yeah?” I asked, forcing myself to make some kind of eye contact. It was hard, I disliked the man upon hello.
“Yes. Yes. You see, in Portugual you would never ask someone what they are doing here. Perhaps you would ask them how they are doing, or how the weather is, but …. *cough* it is not something that is done to ask them what they are doing here.”
I glanced over to Roberta who was giving me a long, knowing stare. It took me a little while to catch onto what I was supposed to know.
My brows furrowed in concentration as he then went on to explain “how indians are supposed to be quiet, polite and just let the conversation happen.”
Oy. I guess a Portuguese would know more than me. Maybe anyone would know more than me, I am a very inquisitive person. I like to ask questions. It’s when I stop asking them that you should be worried. So I asked him “Are you offended?”
“NO, no. I am not offended…” and then he went on to explain more cultural differences and just how much he wasn’t offended that I would ask such a blunt question.
Finally Roberta says “Well, she was just asking as a way to get to know you…”
“And” I interceded, “because Roberta had already made introductions and told me a little about you, I thought the question was okay. If I had never met you, I never would have asked such a question right away.”
Of course, I never would have talked to him either, but that’s beside the point. I am committed to giving an hour of my time for an american indian enthusiast to “get to know the natives.”
Anyway, Roberta quickly said “But let’s move on. Laura here is an artist, and a writer…and a …” but I didn’t hear everything she said because I was in shock hearing myself being described as an artist and a writer in the same sentence. She said more about the kind of stuff The Portuguese was interested in learning about — none of which I can really remember because they were all academic terms that no one ever uses. Let’s put it this way, we had a 5-10 minute discussion on “how natives are confronted with colonialism every time they sit down to write something– anything.”
Sigh. It’s funny really, if the Portuguese had his dream conversation with his idea of a “real” indian, the real indian … wait, I guess they would have been exactly like he said — polite. But they wouldn’t have contributed a single word to the conversation, or even spoke english for that matter.
End result? Meeting him was a disaster, I can understand why Roberta asked me (desperate times call for desperate measures), I felt like he was confrontational about his perceptions of what … how……..should…native be and are. I walked away feeling confused and even a little more bitter about….