Hello. The suburb where I live forces customers who hire cabs to share them with other passengers.
One afternoon I get off a commuter train, go the taxi office where I am told what car to enter. I get into the cab’s back seat, noticing a young dark complected woman is sitting in the front seat. The young woman turns, smiles, says “Hello” and informs me the cabby will be right back, before returning to reading the magazine on her lap. Her casual manner gave me the impression this ride is a regular part of her world.
A few minutes later our driver shows up with two other passengers who cram themselves into the back seat, with me stuck in the middle, sitting on the transmission hump.
As we are leaving the station the young woman takes out her phone and makes a call, apparently leaving a message for a person who ran a ad offering an apartment for rent. Listening to her speak as she left this message it was apparent she was articulate and paid attention during English class. I like people who offer a friendly smile and are not wary about speaking to strangers, so silently I wished her luck in getting her new digs.
After leaving the message she made another call, however, this call was remarkably different in that the diction and tone she used during the first call had disappeared, replaced with a diction and tone that I immediately recognized as being widely used in the mostly poor NYC community I served as a police officer for over a decade of my adult life.
Apparently she called her mom, advising mom she left a message for a prospective landlord. They spoke for a minute or two before hanging up and she returned to reading her magazine.
Me, I’m a friendly chap, I like talking to people I don’t know. Most often it amounts to nothing more than idle chat, on a few occasions it worked in my favor by meeting someone who has a service or product that I might be interested in, or an interesting life experience to share.
For instance, one afternoon I am waiting for the deli man to complete my order when a man about my age comes to the counter and places an order. When he is done I look at him with a straight face and say, “So, you’re one of those people?”
His expression turns to puzzled, perhaps even a bit annoyed as he asks, “What kind of people?”
Now I smile replying, “You know, one of those people mom and dad raised to be a “Please and Thank you” person.
His expression immediately changes, now both of us are smiling. We begin to chat, he mentions he owns a computer repair business down the block, hands me his business card telling to stop by if I need some work done, he’ll hook me up.
Because of a silly little remark to a stranger, not only did I make a business contact, I made someone smile. Not a big deal in the scheme of things, but I like seeing people smile so this brief human interaction added to one of the many “little” positive experiences I had in my life.
As our cab was heading for the college the young woman apparently attended, I asked myself if I should inquire about her phone conversations because I was interested in learning why she spoke near perfect English during her first phone call and spoke in another dialect during the call to her mom.
After considering we already shared a smile and some pleasantries, I decided to ask, because I was real curious about her two apparent personalities.
“Miss, do you mind if I ask a questions?”
She turns to face me and replies, “Sure, what’s on your mind?”
“During your first call you spoke perfect English, yet when you were speaking with your mom you spoke in a totally different fashion? What’s up with that?”
She breaks out into a big toothy grin replying, “Sometimes you just got to know when to switch it up.”
I replied, “Cool, thanks.”
After she was dropped in front of her dormitory and we were driving away headed to the next destination, one of the other passengers said, “Do you believe that?”
He seemed somewhat annoyed and I was not about to fuel a potential fire so I replied, “Yeah, I guess that’s just the way some people are.”
Though I was thinking to myself, “Wow, I could not imagine going through life juggling multiple personalities depending on the people I was associating at the moment.”
I have no training for knowing why people are they way they are, though it seemed fairly evident to me that some people are going through life confused, being dishonest with themselves, deceiving others about who they are because they have not figured out who they are, or because they believe they have to morph their personality to fit in with whomever they are interacting with at the time.
I asked myself, why would this young college educated women not speak to her mother as if she is a college educated person?
Did she feel her mom would think less of her if she spoke proper English during their conversations?
What would her mom think if she heard the message her daughter left for the prospective landlord?
Would mom approve or be disappointed hearing her daughter speaking to one person in one dialect and addressing her mother in a totally different dialect?
What began as a short cab ride with strangers, ended with me asking questions I will never know the answer to.
Hopefully this young woman found her first apartment and will someday nurture children who grow up speaking one language, the language that a majority of Americans use to grow and prosper.