Wednesday, June 01, 2005

"Peter Ustinov" is alive and well in the Mission District

A little something light before I go to bed; I just finished the entry about torture.

In my younger years, in a certain small town on the way from Point A to Point B, there was an old man who ran a roadside fruit stand. This wasn't one of those ramshackle sheds that were just erected yesterday for a week or two, but a solid and enduring structure. The man didn't speak English, and we weren't sufficiently confident of our Spanish to converse about anything much beyond the price of apples and oranges, or maybe even kershaw, so we never asked him his name. We just called him "Peter Ustinov" because of his resemblance to the beloved film star. We looked forward to seeing him, most every time we went from A to B. Eventually, the fruit stand went away, and we never saw "Peter" again.

Tonight, I was standing at a bus stop in the Mission District, waiting for the #49 bus to take me to a potluck dinner and movie (more on that tomorrow, I hope). There was a man standing on the sidewalk selling tamales out of an unassuming cart clearly not originally designed for that purpose. I bought a half dozen tamales for the potluck, and I carried out the entire transaction in Spanish. I'm sure my pronunciation (and grammar!) probably marked me as a gringo, and I'm equally sure the man spoke better English than my Spanish, but I wanted to do that for the same reason I'm learning basic Greek in preparation for a trip to Athens. It's a simple matter of respect for other people's ways of life.

I wish it weren't so remarkable to meet an American who cares about anything in the rest of the world except in terms of how it can benefit him.