Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Strangeness of Strangers

Recently my husband and I had experiences which made us feel annoyed, yet well-mannered and well-organized.

The other day we were part of a group which goes out to lunch a couple of times a month, and, after lunch, listens to a guest speaker. We are new to the group, and the people in it whom we had met before were at the far end of a long table. Four men were present among  seventeen or eighteen women.  We were introducing ourselves to the people around us when a woman and her husband seated themselves and she proclaimed loudly, "I'm so glad to see all the men here!"

My jaw dropped. While I love my husband, I have never been one of these women who thinks that she is nothing without a man, nor do I find men's conversation necessarily more interesting than women's.  I recognize that this group exists because a lot of older women who are widowed or single like to get out for an interesting lunch, and I felt that her comment was disrespectful of them. I wanted to say, "But didn't you come in here with a date? How many men do you want?" (Her husband was beside her, large as life) But I refrained.

A few days later, my husband and I went to a City of Ottawa building  to pay the taxes. I browsed in the Friends of the Library bookshop while he went across the hall and joined the queue. About twenty minutes later he joined me, with steam coming out of his ears.

Two clerks were serving clients, and one was occupied with a woman who couldn't speak either official language. She appeared to be paying taxes on more than one house and wanted to pay with small bills. She was in the process of counting out her money, and then the clerk had to count the bills again. There appeared to be a disagreement about the count. Also, she kept waving pieces of paper at him and talking at him, which threw him off the count and made him have to start over.

The other clerk was occupied by a man who was also there to pay his taxes. He received a number of phone calls on his cell, which required that proceedings had to grind to a halt while he had his conversations. After his taxes were paid he had a question about a fax he had sent to City Hall. He didn't know if it had come to this particular office or not, but he wanted them to check. After about ten minutes they found his fax, which was many pages long. Then he wanted the clerk to check the pages to see that they were all there.

A third clerk opened a new line for my husband. The one dealing with the fax couldn't handle the man's questions about it so he brought it to the third clerk and they managed to mix the fax pages with my husband's tax bill pages.

At that point my husband indicated his displeasure by praying aloud.  The clerk he was dealing with looked sympathetic and urged my husband to make a complaint to the City.The trouble is, a complaint to the City would do no good, because the problem lay, not in the clerks, who were doing their best, but in these members of the public who were behaving in a peculiar way.

We left, marvelling over the strangeness of strangers.

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