(reading time: one minute)
That’s how the brief conversation started, with the elderly woman in front of me in the queue for a service desk asking me that question.
“Yes,” I replied, thinking she might be from abroad and looking for information of some sort.
She wasn’t from abroad and she wasn’t looking for information but was seeking my solidarity with her viewpoint.
“These fucking foreigners,” she began and I didn’t hear the rest because I interrupted her.
“I don’t want to hear anything more about ‘these fucking foreigners’. Thousands, no millions of Irish people have been ‘fucking foreigners’ in other countries around the world and I don’t have any problem with migrants coming here.”
“You don’t?” (looking at me aggressively).
“I know what I’m talking about,” she says.
“So do I. I’ve been a ‘fucking foreigner’ myself for decades.”
“You must have your head up your arse.”
“If you continue insulting me, madam, I will call security and have you removed. So if I were you, I’d button it.” (miming zipping mouth shut).
Eyeball to eyeball confrontation continues in silence for a few minutes before she turns to her companion and begins muttering to him. He might be her son and he appears emotionally challenged, his head bowed. He doesn’t seem to have a choice about whether to listen to her or not.
One service attendant, who is white and sounds Irish, is dealing with a couple who might be migrants; the other attendant is black and he is dealing with an elderly white woman. He is answering her questions and explaining things without any sign of impatience or condescension – possibly about a deal. I’m a little ashamed to admit it but I wish he’d hurry up.
The couple with the other attendant seem satisfied, shake hands with him and leave. The racist lady in front of me moves into place and begins to talk to the white, maybe Irish attendant.
I don’t hear what she is saying – she has her back to me – but I can hear snatches of what he is replying: “No madam ….. the company employs all different nationalities ….. No ….. No, Madam, sorry about that …. No, that’s how it is, madam ….. sorry about that …. There’s another service station of our company at xxxxxx, you might wish to try there. Yes, goodbye now.”
I move up to the desk and tell the Irish attendant my experience with the racist woman (the other attendant is now dealing with someone else) and he explains that at first, she had been next to be served by the black attendant but had refused, insisting on her “right” to be served by an Irish person – and had rejoined the queue to do so!
Meanwhile, the Irish attendant was telephoning their service shop at xxxxxx to warn them the racist was on the way, explaining briefly what her problem with the service was and, when I chipped in, that she had been insulting another customer. Then he sorted out what I needed done, we shook hands and I left.
Maybe I handled it wrongly. Maybe this is what I should have said:
“Yes, madam, I am Irish and no, I don’t wish to hear your unkind from a humanitarian aspect, as well as scientifically, statistically and financially incorrect statements emanating from a prejudiced outlook you have acquired by some strange process and with which you might make many people unhappy, were you ever to get some power but which instead are much more likely to make you deeply unhappy for what remains of your sad life.”