Most of the time when I’m at home I either have on my pajamas’s or my Asian clothes on. Now unless your Asian or your like a cultural hybrid (where your ethnic culture is different to that of the culture of the country you live in) you’re probably thinking why I’m differentiating my Asian clothes from like my jeans, skirts, tops, and shirts and it’s because I only wear my Asian clothes at home, when I’m visiting relatives, or either at weddings or Eid. My Asian clothes perhaps represent a different part of my identity to the clothes I’d wear out or to uni and stuff.
Anyway, this morning I was just sitting around in my living room flicking through TV when a man knocked at my door. So, I opened the door and this is how the conversation went:
Man: Hi there, I’m just promoting this magazine it’s about nature, world geography, global issues and things would you be interested?
Me (thinking it’s some sales ploy): No thanks
[ My mum (from upstairs in Bengali): Who is it?
Me (in replying in Bengali): Oh, just a sales person.]
Man: It’s free and very interesting
Me: Oh, okay sure I’ll have one.
Man (flicking through showing me some pictures of the rainforest): Can you read English?
Me (brain thinking what did he just ask, mindlessly but politely answers): Yeah
Man (Hands me the book): Good girl, here you go, have a good day.
Me: Thanks, you too.
So, as I closed the door still completely baffled by the question “Can you read English?”, “Can you read English?”, “Can you read English?”, “Can…. you… read… English?”. It really kind of hit me when he said that because I’ve been born and bought up in England, England is my home, and English is the language I use most. Even though I’m bilingual and speak, read, and understand Bengali my writing in Bengali is very basic. Moreover, the fact I study English Literature and English Language at uni shows that English is my “thing”, the study of English is what I’m dedicated too, and to be asked “Can you read English?” seemed pretty insulting and an ignorant question to ask. The “good girl” that follows it is perhaps is even more patronizing what made him think I couldn’t read English. I probably should have replied back to him with something sarcastic like “why, don’t you offer a reading service? or “Why is this book exclusive to English readers?, or something but I didn’t I wasn’t quick witted enough.
I don’t understand why he needed to even ask that. I wondered if he assumed that I was new to living in England or perhaps that my Asian attire made him assume that I’m a girl from a “backdated” culture that suggests I wouldn’t know how to read English. Was it because I switched from English to Bengali to English with no hesitation why did he ask “Can you read English?”. I don’t even know it just bugged me inside and it still kind of is. Does he think the tribes of people in the rainforest would be able to read English? Does he think all the tree’s cut down every year are made in to paper only for the English language and it’s readers? I don’t know but I find it ironic that this person is promoting educational literature about the rainforest, nature and stuff and in some way that question made him seem like he was from a superior culture because he assumed I couldn’t read English.
My street is pretty mixed with all sorts of people from all over the world so, I just feel like either this guy was ignorant or just offensive. If you didn’t think I could read English then you should’ve left when I said “No, thanks” but anyway, I just found it a weird and irritating experience like someone was questioning such a big part of my identity. I just find that uncomfortable someone was trying to make my identity different to theirs, inferior even.
Or perhaps I’m reading too much into it? What do you think?