Projection is fun

I was around sixteen and I was out with my best friend and her boyfriend on a Friday evening. We were walking down a busy street of Athens, when my friend’s boyfriend decided to buy a CD from some hawkers. He spent some time looking at the different CDs and asking them questions, if they had this song or that singer, if the discs were good quality, if they’d play in this or that player, that sort of thing.

The two black people selling the music got annoyed that he was taking so long to decide. They figured quickly he didn’t understand English, and they assumed my friend and I didn’t either. They kept their faces straight and pretended to help him, but started insulting him in English.
“What an idiot, what are you looking for, you asshole, just pick one,” the one said, keeping his smile in place. “He and his bitches just want to waste our time,” the other replied looking elsewhere, seemingly talking about something irrelevant. They both laughed sarcastically.
My friend and I exchanged startled glances, and she pushed her boyfriend, who was still blissfully unaware he was being insulted, to hurry up.

“Fucking Albanians are morons,” the first one said, as our guy finally picked a disc and passed him the money. I've always found that ironic, immigrants being racist to other immigrants.
But as we turned to leave, I couldn’t help myself. I looked at him right in the eye and told him: “Thank you, but you didn’t have to be so rude.”

Did I yell? Did I call him an asshole, a bitch, or told him to fuck off? No. I endured his insults without flinching and in a calm, if somewhat snooty, tone told him he was “rude”.

*~* Music intermission *~*

This song seriously annoys me, for one thing because this guy does not understand what "rude" means (hint: it's not just saying "no"), and for another because who would be stupid enough to think it's a good idea to show up at his girlfriend's father doorstep high AF?!? You look stoned, dude. Don't go talking to parents when you're stoned! Common sense. But, in any case, it fits perfectly here. I imagine my sixteen-year-old self, going all sassy at those guys: "Why you gotta be so rude? Huh?" And it's funny!

How do you think he took it? He lost his marbles, that’s how he took it. His face went from smugness to surprise and then rage, and it was like watching a Porsche 918 Spyder going from 0-100 km/h in 2.2 seconds (Wikipedia informed me that's the best acceleration for production cars). He launched towards me, screaming:

I was so shocked by his overreaction that I barely took a reflexive step back. My friend’s boyfriend jumped between us, put his hands in front of him and started telling the guy to calm down. While still numb, I felt impressed and grateful to him. He didn’t have to stick his neck out for me, but he did. Thankfully, the situation didn’t escalate, and we just walked away. It would have been a very stupid reason for either of us to get beat up over, after all.

Once we were at a safe distance, he asked us what happened and he was surprised that they were insulting him in his face. We were all shaken up, but once the adrenaline burnt off, we started laughing at the ridiculousness of the situation. It’s been fourteen years and this is one of those stories that don’t get forgotten.

Here it was a situation where my friends and I did nothing wrong. My friend's boyfriend was under no obligation to be quick or even to buy anything from them. Sure, it's annoying when someone asks too many questions and/or doesn't even buy anything from you, but it's still their right as a customer. On the other hand, insulting others in their face, hiding behind a language barrier is about as cowardly, mean and petty as it can get.

Going off on that tangent, I've found myself plenty of times on either side of that barrier. Excluding a person from a conversation by speaking a language they don't understand felt extremely rude, either when I was the one excluded or someone else. I don't mean saying a few phrases, translating them etc. I mean literally talking about things, while others start glancing around awkwardly. When I'm abroad, I get particularly stern with Greeks who try to show off and speak in Greek with me in front of others who don't understand it. It is rude even when the conversation is about the weather, but, of course, it's even more so when they are bad-mouthing people who are present. If nothing else, people shouldn't do it, simply to avoid the humiliation if the other person actually understands them.

It's pretty epic when that happens, even when you aren't the Mother of Dragons.
"Valyrio muño ēngos ñuhys issa! Who's the bitch now?"

The interesting part is that all people have rationalisations for their double standards, what psychologist Robert Kurzban often refers to as "Why everyone (else) is a hypocrite". When called out, that person tried to pretend he had consistent standards: His first defence was to tell me he hadn't called me "rude". Well, he was technically correct and that was a rather good debating twist, to be honest. It's beautiful to watch the capabilities of the brain to offer explanations. He had not, indeed, called me "rude"; he had just happened to called me a "bitch", instead. Needless to say, his understanding of severity of name-calling (if "rude" is even name-calling) could use some calibration.

His anger was just a defence mechanism. He was caught. He'd either be a grown up and swallow it, or he'd blame the person who caught him. But - alas! - as a very wise wizard, Albus Dumbledore, has said, "People find it far easier to forgive others for being wrong than being right."

The morals of the story:

  • People feel entitled to insulting others and not having any consequences, which is why they do it behind their backs.
  • People have double standards about how much respect they give to others and how much they demand in return.
  • People that get their kicks out of bad-mouthing others behind their backs are probably too cowardly to do it in their face, which is why when they’re caught they project the anger, hurt, and blame. So, not only do they make the initial mistake, but then it’s unlikely they’ll admit they made a mistake at all; they’ll just double down and “blame” others for exposing their hypocrisy (pronoun confusion alert).
  • It is generally a good idea to only say things about a person that you would have no problem saying to that person.
  • When we get caught making a mistake, we can at least do the right thing and admit we made it, instead of lashing out and making ourselves look even more ridiculous in our attempt to save face.
And, most importantly, don't let others' double standards and projection to confuse you. People will do their best to avoid responsibility, which means you should expect their manipulative manoeuvres. 

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