I try to be polite. I will hold the door open if someone is walking behind me, I smile, I say please and thank you and I try to have an aura of politeness floating around me in public. My husband told me this behaviour is not wise, you should have an aura of “leave me alone”. I really thought that was rude, it’s best to be polite and continued to polish my politeness.
Now, sadly, I have to tell you about a recent event which made me throw that polite aura out of the window.
When we moved here, one of the guards helped us move in and I thanked him profusely and from that day onwards, I always said hello to him and he would stroke Alfonso. I thought he was a really nice guy. Several days ago, after days of being in bed with dysentery, I decided I would take Alfonso for a short walk, hoping it might make me feel better. When Alfonso had been to the bathroom, we returned to our apartment building through the secure entrance. We were about to walk into the building when a man I had never seen before came from behind a wall, he was dressed in the security guard uniform all the guards in India seem to wear and he was walking straight towards us. We looked at each other and I smiled as he approached, thinking he would walk straight past us.
The man snatched the lead from my hand and in a monotone and nervous voice he said, “how much money?” in Marathi. My limited Marathi understood what he was asking because I hear my husband saying the same thing when we go to the market. I tried to get the lead from him, he was now holding it with both of his swollen hands, his face covered with sweat and his eyes darting towards the main gate where the other guards were sat, in deep conversation. “Let go of my dog”, I shouted with a huge tug. He grabbed my arm, which seemed to shock him, allowing me to get Alfonso out of his grip so I could run to my apartment in hysterical tears.
My husband arrived home from work soon after, finding me in a state. I had never seen him so angry as he stormed downstairs to confront the new guard. I really didn’t realise my husband could shout so loudly. I was shaken up for hours. It turns out that this new guard was the brother-in-law of the guard I had been polite to and this had been planned. I assume they thought, like many people do, Alfonso is imported and worth lakhs of rupees (thousands of pounds). In fact, Alfonso was born in Nagpur and the same price as many other breeds of dogs here in India. To the guard, I am certain my politeness was seen weakness and so coerced his nervous brother into taking Alfonso. They have suffered the consequences of their actions, and so have I.
I feel so much empathy and compassion for those who are struggling, like I am sure those guards are, but I am going to have to step back if offering a smile makes me look like someone who can be taken advantage of. This doesn’t mean I would ever be unkind to a stranger, just means I will try to remain neutral.
I had always tried to live by the philosophy “give a stranger a smile because it might the only one they see that day”, but now I feel deflated. So, if you happen to see me out and about and I look unapproachable and guarded, don’t be offended. I’m now going to take my time before trusting someone new. I firmly believe that politeness is a virtue, but it seems that politeness is too easily misinterpreted as weakness. Or maybe it’s just because I am a foreigner? Or maybe it’s just because I am a woman?