Pride and prejudice-A A +A
By Ramon Dacawi
Friday, August 16, 2013
GIVEN the news value of “prominence” (or eminence), whatever the rich and famous do or encounter is news.
So it was international news when television celebrity Oprah Winfrey recalled how a clerk in an upscale Zurich (Switzerland) boutique refused to show her a handbag priced $38,000.
Circumspect as she is, Oprah, who earned $77 million in the year ending in June according to Forbes Magazine, said she was sorry for the media coverage over her experience.
“I think that incident in Switzerland was just an incident in Switzerland,” she was quoted by Associated Press as saying. “I’m really sorry that it got blown up. I purposely did not mention the name of the store. I’m sorry that I said it was Switzerland.”
Even as they apologized for the incident, Oprah said there was no need for the boutique owner and Swiss tourism officials to do so.
We lesser mortals, especially we who come from the so-called “Third World’, are more likely to experience discrimination quite more often than do the rich and famous. In the first place, “Third World” is already discriminatory, as an Indian delegate in an international conference had pointed out, asking whatever in the world gave the the so-called “First World” or the so-called developed countries of the West (who also tag themselves as the “North” and us as the “South”) the right to label India as “Third World”.
The Indian delegate, as related to me by cooperatives advocate Paeng Gayaso, noted India’s civilization was already at its peak when Europe that labeled itself “The First World” was still groping for spiritual and philosophical substance and other advances towards civilization.
My personal encounter came after youth leader Jerry Caasi and I had our breakfast in a hotel the United Nations-HABITAT checked us for the 2nd World Urban Forum in Sept., 2004 in Barcelona. As sidebar to the forum, the UN invited us to exhibit Baguio’s Eco-walk Children’s Environmental Program.
Early mornings, we would see some hotel guests take breakfast and then wrap take-out snacks to consume on their tours or return flights for home or other countries. As Jerry and I had been using meal coupons for plate lunches of “bakalaw” (codfish) and fried potatoes at the exhibit area, he suggested we take the cue from the other hotel guests who happened to be from the First World.
The incident happened while I was sharing breakfast with two South Africans who were exhibiting their AIDS prevention work in Nelson Mandela country. Jerry had gone to prepare ham and bacon sandwiches for our take-out. He was moving out to wait for me at the hotel lobby when I waiter confronted him and took what the boy had wrapped.
With my back to the food trays, I didn't see what happened but knew it from the expressions of our fellow exhibitors who were facing me and the trays behind. They just couldn’t believe it. "Oh,oh," one muttered while the other uttered "Oh my…," their lips agape and their eyes opened wide in disbelief.
Totally embarrassed, Jerry rushed out and took the elevator to our room upstairs. I excused myself, made for the lobby and sank into a sofa, then began figuring out how to console the boy.
Moments later, one of the two South Africans followed. He was grinning almost ear to ear, with the confiscated goods intact in his hands. "Give this to Jerry," he said. “What did you tell the waiter?" I asked. He shrugged his shoulders and just said the waiter’s action was so unfair as other hotel guests, including his own son who was bound for Scotland, had freely wrapped take-outs the past few mornings.
After a week of cod-and-fried potatoes for lunch at the exhibit area, Jerry and I repaired for an honest-to-goodness table lunch at the hotel restaurant. We found part of it cordoned off for a function. We occupied a table at the unreserved portion when a waiter told us we could not be accommodated as there was a private party.
I reminded him we were also guests of the hotel, that we wanted to order lunch and that we were at the unreserved portion of the restaurant.
“Then you have to pay,” he reminded us like we didn’t know.
“Of course we’ll pay,” I retorted, feeling blood rushing to my cheeks and as if fumes were blowing out of my nose and ears.
Smarting, I skipped on the menu lunches tagged 10 or less euros and ordered plates priced about 20 euros each.
Unlike in the United States, tipping was not a must. Even if it were, I wouldn't have added it to what I paid.
Over in the West Coast of the US, wandered into a book and CD shop. A woman clerk must have been watching while I was mentally converting the tag prices of some Irish folk CDs to pesos, then returning the items to their racks and then returning to them again.
She approached and asked what I was looking for. Told her I was just looking around. She insisted on helping me look for what I was looking for. Taking her drift, I told her I was looking for a Japanese film.
"It's entitled Kuro-obi and it’s directed by Sunichi Nagsaki," I said. "'Kuro-obi' means 'blackbelt'." I explained, trying to sound nonchalant and, therefore, educated.
She went to her computer, typed the title and punched “Enter”. She waited for the search result and then read on the screen what I already knew before I asked her. Previously, I was in another shop and was told the film was not available yet.
“I’m sorry, sir, but the movie you’re looking for will still be released next month,” she said.
“How come the release is late here?,” I asked, feigning incredulity. “One reason reason why I passed by here is to have a copy of it,” I explained, like I just hopped in from visiting other countries. “Sorry, sir,” she said.
“Can I then look around for other things that might interest me?,” I asked.
“Yes, please,” she answered. She followed me no more when I moved on to the bookshelves.
Having helped her shift her impression, I had to buy something – a Joni Mitchell CD.
(PS: Their names and contact numbers had been misplaced nd I will owe whoever can direct me to recontacting the two wonderful South African anti-AIDS and community workers Jerry and I had to honor of meeting in Barcelona.) (e-mail: email@example.com for comments.)
Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on August 17, 2013.