A friend of mine just shared a story with me, which I feel obliged to tell you.
She had an Indian older lady help her clean and cook for a while. Once, she decided to invite an Azeri girlfriend with her new Azeri husband over for lunch. She did not know, however, that the Azeri husband felt very strongly about Indian people.
‘Wow!’ he told my friend after she had introduced him to the cook, ‘Interesting... She is not very smelly, is she?’
At that point, my friend wondered whether it was the right time to tell her guest that all the delicious food on the table was prepared by the Indian cook.
But, whereas this racist comment is really not that unusual coming from an Azeri talking to another Azeri, I was quite surprised to experience openly racist views expressed by an English babushka on the street.
My mother, you see, has a very fascinating ability to get involved in bizarre conversations with complete, often very weird, strangers. Whenever I meet her at the arrivals gate at the airport, she never walks out alone. The new friends she makes vary from an Internet bride who had never travelled before and wanted us to give her a lift to the other side of the country (as her fiancé never showed up) to a bunch of young Azeri lads on student visas, clearly rich on daddies’ money. She will talk to anyone and make everyone feel like they have known her for ages. So, I guess, I should not have been so surprised that, when I left her outside the local shop for a few minutes, (looking after the baby in the pram) I found her chatting happily to a very old English babushka. The babushka looked pleasant enough in her flowery pink top, with her gray hair pinned back. In Russian we would call such an old lady a Bojiy Oduvanchik, or God’s Dandelion. I.e. something innocent and fragile.
It turns out, however, that my mother managed to find a very outspoken racist in the middle of our village. As we walked away, she explained that the babushka was telling my mother how England was not the same anymore. ‘All these foreigners arriving..’.(Hmm...This is true, actually.) She wanted to know where my mother’s accent was from, and why she was here at all.
But, she added, patting my mother on the arm, ‘at least you are white.’
Honestly, I said. 'How on earth did you manage to get into this discussion outside Budgens?!!' I have been living in this country for 11 years and never got into such bizarre situation.'
’Really...We only talked about which plants to buy this time of year’ mother replied.