Sunday, August 17, 2003

A globalised but disconcerting experience

When you go into a small shop to buy a can of drink in the UK, you never know what language is going to be on the drink can. Often it is cheaper for stores to buy cans of Coca-Cola from distributors in other European countries than in the UK, and they do. Therefore, you often get a Coke can with writing on it in German, or in Danish, or in Portuguese.

Today, though, I went into a local newsagent to buy a drink and noticed that the cans of diet Pepsi were in an unfamiliar language. I looked carefully, and the language was Polish. I hadn't seen that before, so I decided to buy Pepsi rather than my normal Coke. I thus took the can to the counter, and handed a five pound note to the man behind the counter.

The man was not able to give me my change quickly, and seemed to be having difficulty picking up the coins out of the cash register draw. After a moment, I realised that this was because his right arm, which he was using, was in fact prosthetic. My mind wondered why he was not using his left arm if he did not have a right arm, and I glanced at the other side of his body and noticed that he had no left arm, prosthetic or otherwise.

On the counter, I saw a list of names and phone numbers - presumably people that also worked in the shop. The names were Islamic, and looked Pakistani. (They were written in a Latin script, so I could read them). The man looked Pakistani, but he could also have been Afghan. And sadly, I can think of lots of ways in which a man from Afghanistan or Pakistan could have lost both arms.

London is a very multi-ethnic and cosmopolitan place. Usually this is a hugely enjoyable aspect of the city. Sometimes, though, it is weird, and a little disturbing. Occasions when you are sold a can of Polish Pepsi by a Pakistani or Afghan man without any arms fit into the second category.

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