Recently I went into a well-known coffee chain in Edgware Road near Marble Arch. As I waited to be served I noticed the café was crowded but that I was the only female customer. Men in various permutations of Middle Eastern garb, including several in full head-to-toe keffiyah and robe, stared at me.Read the whole thing.
When I sat down and opened my bottle of apple juice I noticed it was fizzing. I called the server over and told her that the juice had fermented. ‘No -- English’ she said, throwing her arms up in despair. Another server came over and asked me what the problem seemed to be. I told her the juice had fermented and that they needed to check their fridge. She looked at the other woman and they shrugged.
I have to confess I have a short fuse about non-English people populating what seems to be 99% of every job in London and the Home Counties. I am spoilt because in recent years I have been to the USA several times and marvel at the stupendous service provided by young college students and other Americans who possess perfect English and are obliging beyond anyone’s expectations.
So, I became exasperated and said ‘Is there no-one working here who speaks English? This is Paddington - this is still a London neighbourhood.’
A well-dressed man came over and said ‘I speak English.’ I thought he was going to intervene on my behalf but instead came out with this astonishing observation:
‘You are a racist! You are a racist ape! Look at you-- you are an ape!’
I was dumbfounded. I came to London thirty-two years ago to soak up the culture of Dr Johnson and Chaucer and Milton, and in the autumn of my life am called an ape by a man from, well, perhaps Egypt, perhaps Palestine, perhaps Saudi Arabia..
Shocked, I glared at him, but he had to finish things off : ‘You want them to speak Hebrew, don’t you?’
I got up from my seat and went over to him and at the top of my voice said I would be proud to speak Hebrew if I could, it being the language of the Torah and of an ancient culture going back six-thousand years.
He then embarked on a tirade at me about the ‘five million Indians’ slaughtered in genocide in America. Meanwhile, the men in the café were in various states of laughter at me, and exhibiting great admiration for him.
Believe it or not, the server had in the meantime brought me a fresh juice which I calmly drank with my very un-Hebrew ham and cheese sandwich, and then I left. I wandered over to the flower shop and found myself commiserating with what seemed to be two Englishwomen who lived in a permanent state of fear in a neighbourhood they had called their own for generations. They told me I must have been mad going into that shop, as ‘all the establishments in Edgware Road are off-limits to us now.’
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