Lost in Translation

| April 5, 2012 | 0 Comments

It was time to leave New York City for the airport. We ordered our taxi very early because it was St. Patrick’s Day and the parade was causing major gridlock in the city. Our driver assured us it was an established upfront fee and the meter would not be on. Settling into the back seat, we looked around the cab and were pleased it was so pristine. The driver turned to us and, with pride, told us that although he rents the car, he makes sure it looks perfect every day, no scents, no decorations, just a spotless vehicle to transport his passengers to their destination. The driver was obviously from another country and we chatted with him as he drove away. He came from India 10 years ago, lost his white collar job 18 months ago and took this job to support his family. He was interesting, intelligent and kept assuring us of his desire to make sure his taxi ride would be as pleasant as a NewYork taxi ride can be. The city was bursting with people dressed in everything green they could muster up. Faces and hair were painted green, crazy hats were atop most heads, everyone seemed to be in some stage of inebriation and it was only noon.

At one point a New York City policeman came over to the cab, knocked on the window indicating he wanted it open and began berating the driver for some unknown infraction. He wasn’t yelling but instead talking to him like he was stupid, asking him if he understood what a steering wheel is and how to use it. It was condescending and I could feel the driver’s embarrassment. He was smart enough to keep silent just nodding and agreeing. The traffic kept getting worse and worse, nowhere to turn, inching along. Soon the driver began to get agitated. Every direction he tried to go he was blocked off, horns were honking incessantly, people were crossing wherever there was a tiny space to get through and racial slurs were being hurled at him as revelers looked into the taxi and saw it was someone who could be their version of the enemy.

While we were stuck, for what seemed like forever, he turned to the rear seat and asked us to tell him about St. Patrick’s Day. I was stymied at first. Well, I said, it’s a holiday honoring a saint. What’s a saint? I tried explaining this Christian, western concept the best I could. Okay, he replied, why is everyone green? I tried again, the emerald isle and all that. Hmmm, I could see the wheels turning. Why is everyone dressed so strange and why were they all drunk and screaming?

I compared the day to holidays in India and told him this has become the way people celebrate this holiday. You celebrate a holy day by drinking and screaming? Oh right, alcohol and eastern religion would not make sense to someone from his culture. In fact, as I looked around at the crazy crowd surrounding us, it didn’t make sense to me either. How could I explain this St. Patrick’s Day phenomenon to him? I couldn’t explain that any more than I could explain the slurs being tossed at him or the cop’s treatment of him. Was it his looks, was it a sign of the times, was it the confusion of all the pandemonium in the city or was it all just lost in translation?

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