Sunday, January 24, 2010

Haitian attitudes

A Haitian accent gives me a twinge of inferiority. I don't speak French and for the English, to be reasonably educated and not know at least some French, is a little embarrassing. At least when I hear that soft French sound, whether from French or Creole, I can sling out a "merci!" and "au revoir!" at the Publix check out and get a flash of a smile, slight, conspiratorial. We are communicating elegantly over the grocery cart, in the clunking Anglo-Saxon world. I am saying you may be the poorest country around, you may be looked down upon by African Americans, but do you have a history and don't you sound good.

It was a different feeling at the old Florida City swap meet. As the rest of us bent over the heaped up weekly treasures at Carlos' "boutique" the word would go up "The Haitians are coming!" Then we grabbed whatever looked promising before the big strong women with the big boxes and sacks arrived. Back then, when it came to T shirts I was on the same economic level; over 25 cents and I thought twice. But when those ladies swung into action there was no time to think twice or you'd be left empty-handed, sure that you'd have appreciated that Liz Clairbourne more than some skinny Haitian somewhere.

In fact, the Haitian women at the swap meet were mostly defined by a certain chic - they wore a headscarf or bandanna just so, a beret or a small hat. They carried themselves erect and often with an air of looking down their noses -(so French!) And the children, especially the boys, always looked like they were dressed for church.

Many Haitians have bought orchids from us - no need to ask where are you from? Most elegant, rich, cool -French seems such an appropriate language! -And also some teachers and professionals over the years, some determined, others despairing. We hope to have a table at the Tamiami International Orchid Festival next weekend, and raise some money for Haiti, like everyone else. So they can keep those heads up, even though it means they may look down their noses at us, who were never so brave and bold in the past and never had to pay so dearly for it.

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